Ontario education worker strike called off with union members to vote on tentative deal

Union leaders in Ontario have called off a strike by education workers, giving parents a last-minute reprieve.

The decision to cancel a province-wide walkout by Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) workers came after weekend talks between the union and Ontario’s provincial government.

In an update posted to Twitter, CUPE’s bargaining team said it had reached a tentative agreement that it would take to its membership.

“There will be no job action tomorrow,” the update said. “Our members will be reporting to schools to continue supporting the students that we are proud to work with.”

The announcement — posted at 5:25 pm — came ahead of a news conference scheduled at Queen’s Park by Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

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Speaking at Queen’s Park, Lecce said the tentative deal was good news for students.

He said all parties achieved “incremental wins” during the negotiation process and the deal was “a positive outcome for all the parties.”

Lecce did not divulge the details of the tentative agreement, which will be voted on by CUPE members before it is officially approved or rejected.

CUPE’s Laura Walton said the government did not offer money for new services in the latest round of negotiations. The union opted to send the deal to its members to vote on it, nonetheless.

Walton said the deal included a $1-hourly increase for education workers represented by CUPE.

Union members will begin voting on the tentative agreement Thursday, Walton said.

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Internally, CUPE’s leadership had faced push-back from members who questioned the decision to issue a five-day strike notice. Instead they demanded the contract be presented to education-support workers.

CUPE sources told Global News members began emailing the presidents of union locales after the strike notice was issued. They aimed to put “pressure” on Walton to “present…the deal” that was offered over the past week.

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That deal, according to internal documents obtained by Global News, focused mainly on wages, with a flat-rate increase of $4-per hour over the term of the four-year contract.

“This translates to an increase across the board of 3.59 per cent in each year of the agreement or 14.36 per cent over 4 years,” the internal document states.

“Because it is a flat-rate increase, it will represent a larger percentage for those who have lower wages,” the document states.

But despite the government increasing its compensation offer last week — an additional $335 million, the government said — the union suddenly pivoted its bargaining requests and emphasized the need for additional staffing supports in schools.

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CUPE said if the government wasn’t prepared to add more educational assistants, early childhood educators, custodians, librarians and clerical workers, members were willing to walk. But the government balked.

Sources told Global News the tentative agreement is “virtually the same as the deal that was on the table last week.”

Walton confirmed the union wasn’t offered any additional money “for any new jobs” but suggested that internal member-driven pressure may have convinced the union to call off the strike and allow workers to vote on a contract.

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“I don’t like this deal,” Walton said. “If the members do not accept it, we will be back.”

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CUPE had said its workers would walk off the job Monday if a deal was not reached. Some school boards, including the Toronto District School Board, said they would be forced to close classrooms.

Earlier in the month, CUPE workers staged a two-day strike after the province briefly introduced legislation that outlawed their labor action and imposed a contract on CUPE workers. That legislation was repeated by the Ford government — an offer it made in exchange for CUPE ending its strike action.

Speaking on Sunday, Walton said the two-day walkout earlier in November was a political protest, not a strike.

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