Ontario government and education workers avoid strike with tentative deal

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) says it has reached a tentative deal with the Ontario government to avert a strike after labor negotiations over the weekend.

“Workers will be in schools tomorrow and there will not be a strike,” said Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.

Walton announced the tentative deal Sunday at a news conference shortly after the 5 pm strike deadline given to the province to come to an agreement in order to avoid another job walkoff.

CUPE said earlier that both sides had already reached an agreement on wages even as the union kept pushing for certain staffing levels to be guaranteed. The union said the deal was no different than what the government offered last week when the union issued a five-day strike notice.

That walkout, which would have come two weeks after another one, was planned because the union said it was trying to secure staffing level guarantees from the province. But Walton said there was no new funding to “guarantee that services would be provided in schools for students.

“What we have been told by this government is that they are not willing to budge any further,” Walton said.

“For that, to parents and families, all I can say is that I’m disappointed and so is the entire bargaining committee.

“As a mom, I don’t like this deal. As a worker, I don’t like this deal.”

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce emerges from Premier Doug Ford’s office before speaking to journalists at Queen’s Park, in Toronto, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, after a tentative agreement was reached between the Government and CUPE, averting a school strike. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

The deal will be taken to CUPE members to vote on ratification later this week.

Despite saying the deal “falls short,” Walton said the union’s central bargaining committee will recommend members accept it. She said the union expects that the voting will begin Thursday and take “several days.”

If CUPE members vote not to ratify the tentative agreement, all parties will have to go back to the negotiation table.

‘A positive outcome,’ Lecce says

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the new agreement would “provide stability for children” and “keep kids in the classroom.

“This is a positive outcome. We are grateful to all of the parties for working with the government,” Lecce said at a news conference Sunday.

“The biggest beneficiary of this deal is our kids, who are going to have some stability and be able to stay in school.”

The four-year deal will include a $1-per-hour raise each year, or about 3.59 per cent annually.

Walton announced last week that the two sides had been able to agree on wages, but said the union was still looking for $100 million in guarantees of higher staffing levels for educational assistants, librarians, custodians and secretaries, as well as an early childhood educator in every kindergarten classroom and not just classes that have more than 16 students.

The province previously passed legislation dubbed Bill 28 on Nov. 3 in a bid to prevent 55,000 CUPE workers from striking.

But thousands of workers, including education assistants, librarians and custodians, walked off the job earlier this month anyway, shutting many schools across the province for in-person learning for two days.

The union representing 55,000 Ontario education workers has not yet released details about the deal, but said earlier that both sides had already reached an agreement on wages even as the union kept pushing for certain staffing levels to be guaranteed. (Carlos Osorio/CBC News)

Meanwhile, the province is still in negotiations with other education unions.

The Ontario Public School Boards Association says it will continue to negotiate “a fair and fully funded agreement” with the other unions representing teachers and education workers.

“We’re very pleased that students will be in the classroom tomorrow,” said OPSBA President Cathy Abraham.

“This tentative agreement recognizes the important contribution of our vital education workers and the significant role they play in our schools.”