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Doug Ford says Ontario is back at negotiation table with 'improved offer' for education workers

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford says his government is ready to stop fighting with education workers and return to the negotiation table with an “improved offer” a day after promising to rescind legislation that took away their rights to strike.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday morning, Ford said he couldn’t get into details about what the new offer entailed, but said it was “improved…particularly for the lower-income workers.”

The premier also told reporters that he was “past the stage of fighting” with the union, adding that he would “love to see negotiations finish by the end of the week.”

“I don't want to fight. I just want the kids in school. That's what I want to do,” he said.

CUPE PROVIDES UPDATE ON NEGOTIATIONS

On Tuesday evening, CUPE provided an update on negotiations.

In a statement posted to Twitter, the union said that unconfirmed reports that an offer of 3.5 per cent and 2 per cent has passed were riddled with “multiple issues.”

Foremost, they said they had not received that offer as of Tuesday night.

CTV News Toronto has not reported on the offer referenced by the union.

“We will not accept a 2-tiered wage increase,” they continued. “Such an offer would fall short of what you, as workers, need to ratify a deal.”

The union says they have been clear in their expectations.

“We have been clear, a deal will be made that is a substantial flat rate increase, increases to funding to improve services that CUPE provides and improvement on working conditions."

Details on the negotiations happening behind closed doors remain scarce, but Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, has cast doubt on Ford’s “improved” offer.

"I wouldn't say it's an improvement," she told The Canadian Press during a break in negotiations Tuesday. "I think there's still a huge concern. We do not do two-tiered bargaining."

TWO-DAY WALKOUT

The comments come as schools reopened after a two-day walkout by the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ (CUPE), which has roughly 55,000 members.

Negotiations with the province came to a stalemate on Oct. 30, with CUPE workers threatening to strike and the government refusing to budge until they removed that threat from the table.

The following day, the Ford government enacted Bill 28, which uses the notwithstanding clause to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to force a contract on the employees.

The legislation also made it illegal to strike and imposed hefty fines on individuals participating in any job action.

Ford has promised to rescind the bill on Nov. 14 if CUPE workers stop striking and return to the table. Ford said he expects the repeal to pass “quickly” with support from opposition parties.

Bargaining is expected to resume Tuesday morning; however, the two parties still have to come to terms over the contentious issue of wages.

CUPE has been asking for an annual 11.7 per cent salary increase annually, but last week said their latest offer was about half of what was originally proposed.

The government, meanwhile, put an annual wage increase of 2.5 per cent for those making less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent for all other employees on the table.

This wage increase was locked in using Bill 28 last week.

Speaking with CP24 Tuesday morning, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions said they are going into negotiations with an "open mind and clear head."

"My hope is that the government and the employers are doing the exact same thing,” Laura Walton said.

Walton indicated that before anything is agreed upon, the union wants to see Bill 28 repealed.

"Students are in class today, people should be at Queen's Park as well."

USE OF NOTWITHSTANDING CLAUSE NOT A ‘SLEDGEHAMMER’: FORD

When speaking with reporters, the premier dismissed the idea that he was ready to fight with education support workers last week by using the notwithstanding clause to pass Bill 28.

“I never wanted a fight from the beginning, but CUPE got up and walked away from the table. What else do I have?” he said.

“I wouldn't call it a sledgehammer. I call it a tool—similar to they have a tool and their big sledgehammer is going on strike. So that's even more dangerous than any tool I ever have.”

Ontario’s Official Opposition, meanwhile, questioned why MPPs weren’t recalled to the legislature early to deal with Bill 28.

Members of Provincial Parliament are not sitting in the legislature this week and are scheduled to return on Nov. 14.

“We think we should be back this week,” interim NDP Leader Peter Tabuns said.

“We're willing to come in tomorrow. We're willing to come at midnight tonight. When I talked to CUPE, their understanding was that this would be put through very quickly. They were surprised that it wasn't being put through until next week.”

Tabuns added he hopes to see the bill in advanced to ensure “there aren’t any surprises.”

CUPE members have been without a collective agreement since Aug. 31.

The union is still in a legal position to strike, but will have to provide five days notice of any further job action.

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