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Why are Ontario education workers preparing to strike?

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Ontario tabled legislation to block education workers from striking at the end of the week, but their union is planning a province-wide protest to fight back.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 55,000 education workers in the province, announced they would hold a mass walkout on Friday after Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce introduced back-to-work legislation intended to prevent a strike from taking place.

Here’s what you need to know about the latest updates.

Who is involved?

CUPE, representing education workers such as administration staff, librarians, early childhood educators and custodians, is sitting on one side of the bargaining table while the ministry of education is perched on the other.

Why are they positioned to strike?

The primary point of contention between CUPE and the government is salary.

The union is seeking an 11.7 per cent annual salary increase for their members. CUPE says years of wage freezes and caps have left their employees’ salaries falling behind.

What is the government putting on the table?

The province's latest offer is a four-year deal that includes a 2.5 per cent annual raise for workers who make under $43,000, and a 1.5 per cent yearly wage increase for those who make more.

Their recent offer, which they put on the table on Sunday, was up from the two per cent annual increase for workers who make less than $40,000 and a 1.25 per cent raise for the rest of the workforce that they originally put forward.

What happened on Monday?

Lecce tabled back-to-work legislation on Monday at 1 p.m. that aims to block a planned strike by school support staff.

In response, CUPE announced they plan to protest across the province beginning on Friday if the government’s bill is passed. That means education workers will not attend work at the end of this week.

What happened over the weekend?

On Sunday afternoon, an emergency mediated session between CUPE and the ministry of education was called after the union announced they would strike on Friday if a deal is not reached with the province.

After the meeting, Lecce said the province set forward a new offer, but CUPE did not accept it.

The minister said he had “no other choice” but to introduce legislation on Monday to prevent job action and keep schools open.

The government is tabling legislation. What does that mean?

Lecce introduced legislation to effectively prevent a looming strike and impose a contract on education workers.

At this point in time, the legislation has not been passed. But if the bill does pass, it will “terminate any on-going strike or lock-out” of employees represented by CUPE. 

What other points of contention are at the table?

Ontario education workers are pushing for casual and temporary employees’ salaries to match how much permanent staff make. They also want to see the rate of overtime pay double along with the elimination of pay grids.

Aside from pay, they also want 30-minutes of prep time established every day for educational assistants and early childhood educators (ECEs), along with an extra week of paid work before the start of the school year and an increase in benefits.

When could the strike start?

CUPE says the custodians, early childhood educators, education assistants, and school administration staff they represent will strike on Friday if a new contract is not reached with the government.

How could this impact in-person learning?

Five school boards have detailed how the strike would impact in-person learning if it does take place at the end of the week.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) is telling parents, guardians and caregivers to be prepared for all possibilities in the event of a strike.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) said its 195 schools will close starting on Friday. Night school and Saturday classes will also pause.

The Halton District School Board is planning to provide a mix of in-person and online learning for Kindergarten to Grade 8 students that will alternate week-to-week, beginning with in-person learning.

Students in Grades 7 to 12 will continue learning in-person.

Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington (PVNC) Catholic District School Board and Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board said they wouldn’t be able to keep schools open if CUPE strikes.

With files from Joanna Lavoie.

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