Ontario’s five big education unions have already filed notices to bargain in advance of their contracts expiring at the end of August – and the union representing school support staff says it wants to negotiate all through the summer break.
The Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, a part of CUPE, issued its notice to bargain the day after the provincial election, which started the clock ticking for a meeting within 15 days. That meeting was held last Friday – in person, and in Toronto – and included trustee groups and the Ministry of Education.
“I think it really speaks to the importance that we see getting in there and having good talks before September starts,” said council president Laura Walton of the early notice to bargain for her union’s 55,000 custodians, school secretaries and education assistants.
“We all know that there’s a significant wage issue,” she added, noting inflationary pressures are a big concern for her members, who are the lowest paid in schools.
“And we all know that there’s a significant service delivery issue” and more staff are needed, she said. “Why wait? Let’s start talking… we have told them that we will make ourselves available over the summer and that getting a deal is the focus for us, because I think parents and kids deserve that. “
Even though Premier Doug Ford has yet to name his cabinet, “it’s not like the government goes away just because there’s been an election,” Walton added, noting that work can be done now to define the central and local bargaining issues.
In Ontario, education bargaining consists of two rounds – central, where the big-money items like salaries are discussed, and local, with individual school boards on more administrative matters.
Teachers ‘unions have also filed notices to bargain, including the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers ‘Federation, the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario.
It is unclear how much public support there would be for any further interruption of classes, given the last two years of the pandemic saw students learning online for 27-weeks plus, more than any others in North America and much of Europe.
“After two years of pandemic disruptions, it’s important that students catch up both in terms of their learning as well as their physical and mental health,” said Grace Lee, a spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce. “That starts with them being back in the classroom, on time, with the full school experience, including extracurricular activities.”
The last round of negotiations proved contentious, with rotating strikes and other job action by the education unions before the pandemic hit.
In May 2020, the high school teachers’ union inked a deal with the province that provided additional funding for supports for students – mainly to hire additional special education staff – allowed for smaller class sizes than the government had wanted and curtailed plans for four mandatory online secondary credits to two optional ones.
It was the last union to sign an agreement and, in keeping with provincial wage legislation at the time, that deal provided a one per cent raise in each year of the three-year agreement.
Like the secondary teachers’ union, Walton said hers also plans to be “open and transparent” when it comes to bargaining, rather than keeping developments secretive until a deal is reached.
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