55,000 Ontario school workers ready to strike on Oct. 7, union says
Published Wednesday, October 2, 2019 7:32AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, October 2, 2019 7:58PM EDT
Thousands of Ontario school support workers are prepared to walk off the job on Oct. 7, amid an ongoing contract dispute with the Progressive Conservative government.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees announced Wednesday morning that they are willing to escalate their work-to-rule campaign and launch “full strike action” if a deal cannot be reached.
“Make no mistake, CUPE members are prepared to go on strike. We are ready,” said Laura Walton, who has led negotiations on behalf of the union.
Walton claims that “within minutes” of launching the work-to-rule campaign, school boards began effectively laying off CUPE employees by cancelling continuing education programs and have asked children as young as “10 or 11” to monitor other students.
Those claims have not been independently verified by CTV News Toronto.
Walton says while the union is taking this step to “apply pressure” on the bargaining processes, they are also willing to “do the hard work” to prevent a strike.
“I’m hoping that the government wants to avoid a full walk out as much as I do.”
Walton says there are no future bargaining dates scheduled.
Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that he is "frustrated" by the union's decision.
"Most issues were resolved last Sunday," the minister said. "Overwhelmingly, we made progress. This is where I face a bit of frustration."
"Obviously, I expect education workers and teachers in the province to be in class with their students, educating their kids."
A little after 7 p.m., CUPE said that they had "secured a return to the bargaining table." Talks are schedule to start around 4:30 p.m. on Friday.
Effects of a strike
If school support employees walk off the job Monday morning, Walton says the impact would depend on each of the 63 school boards that employ CUPE’s 55,000 members.
Walton says the results would vary because the union has different degrees of representation in Ontario schools — from zero members in some school boards, to hundreds of employees in others.
Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, says he provided other education-sector unions with advance notice of the escalation in job action and says it would be “ideal” if their members did not cross picket lines.
“It would be ideal, because what we want is pressure to resolve these issues,” Hahn told reporters at Queen’s Park. “Each of the teachers unions that we have been in touch with have expressed their solidarity with our members.”
However members of the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation are being warned that joining the picket lines could result in serious consequences.
Union President Harvey Bischof told CTV News Toronto that members “would have to cross the picket line” because they are operating under a collective bargaining agreement.
“Members should show up to work,” Bischoff says. “They could face disciplinary action up to dismissal.”