Province imposes new contract on Guelph, Ontario training employees

Education Minister Stephen Lecce, seen here in August at Queen's Park, says the newly introduced Keeping Students in Class Act gives a fair deal for unionized education workers.  The Canadian Union of Public Employees says the walkout, scheduled to begin Friday, will still go ahead.Education Minister Stephen Lecce, seen here in August at Queen's Park, says the newly introduced Keeping Students in Class Act gives a fair deal for unionized education workers.  The Canadian Union of Public Employees says the walkout, scheduled to begin Friday, will still go ahead.

The provincial government has tabled legislation that will impose a new contract on school staff in Guelph and across Ontario that were looking to go on strike by the end of the week. The union representing those workers say the walk out will still go ahead as planned.

Dubbed the Keeping Students in Class Act, the new legislation will foist a four-year contact to the 55,000 custodians, early childhood educators, educational assistants and clerical staff represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

On Oct. 30, the union had given the required five days’ notice of striking.

“Students are finally back in class catching up following two years of pandemic disruptions. We are disappointed that CUPE is refusing to compromise on their demand for a nearly 50 per cent increase in compensation, representing a price tag close to $19 billion if extended across the sector,” Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education, states in a news release.

“CUPE has now made the decision to strike, putting their own self interest ahead of Ontario’s nearly two million children, who deserve to stay in class learning. We are delivering on our promise to parents that our government will do whatever it takes to keep students in class, so they can catch up and get back to the basics of learning.”

Under the legislated agreement, those earning less than $43,000 annually will receive a 2.5-per-cent raise for each year of the contract, with those earning above that receiving 1.5 per cent annually. CUPE had been seeking 11 per cent in annual wage increases.

The Toronto Star is reporting CUPE has said its workers will still walk off the job on Friday, facing fines of $4,000 per worker per day of the strike, plus a $500,000 daily fine for the union.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, accused the government of “bullying.”

“They are using the nuclear option because a group of workers has gotten extremely strong,” she said at Queen’s Park.

In a statement posted to its website ahead of the legislation’s announcement, the Upper Grand District School Board said it was “doing contingency planning to ensure the continuity of learning for students and, where possible, that schools remain open.”

The new act also uses the notwithstanding clause under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms so as to prevent any court challenges — the first time in the country’s history the clause has been used to pass labor legislation and the second time that Premier Doug Ford’s government has invoked it to forward his agenda.

In a statement, Guelph MPP and provincial Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said the 2.5-per-cent wage bump from the province “in an inflationary economy is essentially a cut that especially hurts low-wage workers.”

“The fact that Ford and Lecce would rather try and ram through legislation that has precedent of being unconstitutional than treat education workers with respect tells you that this government will not prioritize students and quality public education,” his statement reads.

“Just last week, the Financial Accountability Office showed that the Ford government is sitting on surplus funds — all while penny pinching from the lowest-paid education workers in Ontario. It’s disrespectful and just straight-up wrong.”

— with files from the Toronto Star

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