School strike talks resume as Ontario parents scramble to find child care
The Canadian Press
Published Friday, October 4, 2019 5:29AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, October 4, 2019 6:46PM EDT
TORONTO -- Parents in Ontario are scrambling to figure out what to do with their kids should the province's education workers strike on Monday -- a looming question that won't be answered until this afternoon at the earliest.
Talks between the Ontario government and the union that represents thousands of custodians, clerical workers and early childhood educators are set to resume towards the end of the day.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees has said its 55,000 members plan to walk off the job on Monday after holding a work-to-rule campaign this week.
More than a dozen Ontario school boards, including the three largest in the province, have said they will have to close schools if the labour disruption goes ahead.
They say the closures are necessary to ensure student safety, which they say would be compromised without CUPE workers on site.
That's left parents wondering what to do with their kids, who would otherwise be in class.
Some school-based daycares have said they'll operate as if it's a professional activity (PA) day, charging parents extra for the additional hours of care.
Meanwhile, the City of Toronto said city-run programs in schools -- such as recreation programs, pool activities and after-school recreation care -- would be cancelled should a strike go ahead.
Such measures have posed problems for privately operated child-care providers.
"Parents have asked me if I know any babysitters or if I have any extra staff who would be willing to help out," said Ellana Katzberg, who owns Playcare Early Learning Centre in Vaughan, Ont., which can accept 64 kids up to six years old. "It's been quite a stressful situation for everybody."
She said she'll be working through the weekend to help figure out solutions for her clients' older kids, including by using online job boards to recruit more help.
"I've also reached out to a couple of home daycare providers in the area to see if they have any spots to help some of our families," Katzberg said.
"We put a post out asking if there was a need for Monday and within, I'd say 10 minutes, I had 30 people that emailed to say they were in a bind."
But paying for additional child-care isn't an option for everyone, said Roxana Ichim of Mississauga, Ont.
A mother of two studying marketing at Sheridan College, Ichim said she expects she'll have to skip class on Monday because her kindergarten-aged daughter won't have anywhere to go if education workers strike.
"I might be falling behind, because it's already the middle of the semester and midterms are coming and assignments are due and everything," Ichim said.
But she was sympathetic to the education workers' plight, noting she and her daughter rely on the work they do, such as keeping schools clean.
The workers have been without a contract since Aug. 31.
The government and school boards have said high rates of worker absenteeism remain unresolved, while the union has said the impact of government cuts on workers must be addressed.
This story by the Canadian Press was first published on Oct. 4, 2019