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Ontario education workers reach deal with province, averting Monday school strike

Some 55,000 education workers in Ontario will not strike Monday after successful last-minute contract talks with the provincial government, according to Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

Last-minute talks allow CUPE, government to reach tentative deal

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said classes should go ahead as normal on Monday after the government and CUPE education workers reached a tentative labour deal late Sunday. (Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press)

Some 55,000 education workers in Ontario will not strike Monday after successful last-minute contract talks with the provincial government, according to Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing a number of education support workers across the province, reached a tentative deal on Sunday evening — a move that should allow public schools to open as normal. 

Lecce said he expects tonight's deal means students across Ontario will be able to go to school as normal on Monday morning following the "positive outcome" of the negotiations.

"Parents can rest easy knowing that the government worked tirelessly to ensure their children remain in the classroom, where they belong," Lecce said.

He added that the deal represented "incremental success" as contract talks with the major teachers unions continue.

The union said it was able to secure modest wage increases and maintain its existing sick leave plan — a sticking point for the school trustees.

In a statement released shortly after the decision was made public, Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government will "continue to negotiate in good faith with all of our bargaining partners."

"Our government worked tirelessly at the bargaining table to achieve this goal and as a result two million students will remain in the classroom where they belong," he said. 

Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the deal with the government includes a reinvestment in schools that will see more jobs return to the province. Walton said that investment is around $20 million, and thanked the government for opening the "piggy bank."

Laura Walton, president of the union representing around 55,000 education workers across Ontario, spoke to members of the media Sunday on a tentative deal reached with the provincial government that will avert a school strike. (Angelina King/CBC)
 

"Thanks for opening the piggy bank and allowing us to get the services that we needed for our students," she said. 

Walton says those who have benefited the most from this decision aren't workers, but students and parents. 

"I think the students and families were the victors in this, we're just the people supporting them," she said. 

 

Walton said her union will hold ratification votes with the goal of finalizing the new collective agreement by the end of the month. In the meantime, the work-to-rule campaign by CUPE's education workers, which include clerical staff, education assistants and custodians, will end. 

Full terms of the deal were not immediately made available.

The Ontario Public School Boards' Association (OPSBA) says terms of the tentative deal are to be kept confidential until ratification. 

"OPSBA will continue to negotiate with other unions representing teachers and education workers, with the best interests of students in mind," said OPSBA President Cathy Abraham in a news release Sunday. 

Walton apologized on Sunday for how long it took to be able to provide an update.

"Believe me this process has taken longer than I hoped it would," she said. "I do regret the disruption to your lives."

Had the province and the union failed to reach an agreement, many school boards around the province planned to close schools entirely. Parents were also warned to expect closures and disruptions of recreational and after-school programs.

See a timeline of talks below: 

While the dust settles for education workers, the unions representing Ontario's teachers are in the midst of bargaining with the Ford government and the province's school boards.

Read the latest on the status of negotiations:

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ford must reverse his government's cuts to education now that school closures have been "narrowly avoided." 

"Now more than ever, Ontarians recognize the importance of our education system and the vital role that our education workers play," she said in a statement released Sunday. 

The negotiations are happening as the government has ordered school boards to start increasing class sizes, moving to an average for high school from 22 to 28 over four years. Class sizes for Grades 4 to 8 will increase by one student per classroom, from 23 to 24.

With files from the Canadian Press

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