Education workers across the province are in the midst of a difficult round of collective bargaining with the Ford government. At its October 1 meeting, the Society’s Executive Board passed a resolution expressing support for education workers, and in particular those represented by CUPE that have recently taken job action.
Education workers include elementary and secondary school teachers, as well as support staff like educational assistants, administrative support staff, and caretakers. CUPE represents support staff, who earn an average of $38,000 per year and do not receive pay during summer months when schools are not in session.
CUPE-represented staff play a vital role in a strong public education system by directly helping students, ensuring schools operate smoothly and that the learning environment is safe and clean.
In recent weeks, education workers, including CUPE members, took strike votes. CUPE was the first to announce a limited job action with members refusing to do work that is not required of them as a condition of employment.
On October 2, CUPE’s leadership announced that if there is not an agreement by October 7 their members will strike. Choosing to create a pressurized environment to force the Ford government to put the best possible deal on the table is not a unique strategy in the realm of labour relations. These circumstances are, however, rare because education labour strife has become an issue in the federal election.
Political analysts have observed that Premier Doug Ford chose to keep the Ontario legislature in recess until after the federal election to avoid becoming an unpopular distraction for his federal Conservative cousins. By forcing a deadline of October 7 for a deal, CUPE is leveraging the Ford government’s desire to remain low-key during the election. Should there be a strike, if the government were to want to legislate the workers back to work it would require re-opening the legislature. In these circumstances, it appears CUPE believes this is the best opportunity to get the best deal for workers that will benefit students through ensuring appropriate learning conditions.