Talks between union and province break down as work-to-rule campaign looms
Bryann Aguilar, CP24.com
Published Sunday, September 29, 2019 6:51PM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 29, 2019 11:00PM EDT
Around 55,000 Ontario school support staff will begin a work-to-rule campaign on Monday after the most recent round of talks with the province and school boards ended without a resolution on Sunday.
“It is deeply disappointing that CUPE has decided to end talks this weekend, and proceed with a partial withdrawal of services, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table,” Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement.
The province, CUPE, and the Council of Trustees’ Associations agreed to hold bargaining sessions this weekend after the work-to-rule campaign became public.
The union representing custodians, office workers, and early childhood educators have said it is willing to put the job action on hold if the province withdraws certain concessions at the bargaining table.
They also want the province to reverse cuts they have made to the education system. These include increases to average class sizes, shifts towards online learning models and a gradual reduction in the number of working teachers.
The union said in a statement on Sunday that the province and school boards "maintained the wrong priorities throughout negotiations."
"What the provincial government and the trustees’ associations has done is highly irresponsible,” the union said Sunday evening in a news release.
The president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions said they are disappointed that talks have broken down.
"We wanted a deal but reasonable isn't enough when we're looking at members facing layoffs," Laura Walton said.
Walton said the union and the province remains far apart especially on the key issue of job security.
The first phase of the job action begins at 12:01 a.m. Monday when the union officially enters legal strike position.
Lecce said their offer addressed compensation, job security and funding for additional staff. However, the minister said the issue of rising absenteeism remained unsolved.
“The Crown and the employers tabled a reasonable offer and expanded our offer through the negotiations with one interest in mind: landing a deal that keeps our kids in class,” he said.
“The Crown and the Council of Trustees’ Associations (CTA) have been and will continue to negotiate in good faith. We remain fully committed to resuming discussions with CUPE to reach an agreement quickly to provide predictability to parents and students,” Lecce said.
He said they have asked for additional bargaining dates to bring everyone back to the table.
The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, which represents public district school boards and public school authorities across Ontario, said in a statement that they are committed to negotiation with CUPE to achieve an agreement.
“We had hoped to avoid significant job action by CUPE. We believe that we are seeking fair changes that support ill and injured employees while maintaining the educational experience of students through decreasing rates of absenteeism.”
Walton said they have provided several different methods regarding absenteeism that they felt would address the issue. However, she said the province was committed in achieving financial savings.
“We need to hear that they understand that service is important not just when we’re in work to rule but everyday for our children,” Walton said.
In a document obtained by CP24 on Wednesday, CUPE outlined several instructions to its members relating to the impending job action.
If the work-to-rule campaign goes ahead, CUPE has instructed its members not to attend training sessions on unpaid time, not to answer calls or texts from supervisors outside of work hours, and not to volunteer for unpaid activities, such as clubs and coaching.
Ryan Bird, a spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board, said they have plans to address the work-to-rule.
“Students are not going to notice huge difference at least in the beginning," Bird said.
He said students will begin to feel the impact of the job action if a deal can't be reached quickly.
In a letter to parents, the TDSB said schools will remain open during the job action.
The board stated that CUPE will partially withdraw from services which includes not sweeping hallways, office areas and gymnasiums, not doing school compost or recycling programs, not cutting grass, shovelling or completing other ground maintenance duties, and not collecting or accepting money for school-related initiatives and funding.
"We remain hopeful that negotiations between CUPE, the Government of Ontario and public school boards will soon result in a new collective agreement," the TDSB said in a statement.
The Toronto Catholic School Board said in a statement that schools will remain open and academic programming will continue to be delivered.
"We are working together with principals and vice-principals to mitigate any negative impact on regular school operations. Should there be any impact on student programming or services, parents will receive updates via email, twitter and the board's website."
- with files from The Canadian Press