'We stood our ground:' Ontario education workers vote to accept four-year contract
Published Monday, December 5, 2022 5:08AM EST
Last Updated Monday, December 5, 2022 11:05AM EST
Ontario education support workers have voted to accept a new deal with the provincial government, putting an end to a long and contentious negotiation process.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents about 55,000 workers, announced the ratification of the contract on Monday morning.
According to the bargaining committee, about 73 per cent of members voted to accept the tentative agreement.
“For the first time in a decade, education workers have achieved a collective agreement that did not impose terms through legislation,” the union said in a statement.
The union said they had “unprecedented member engagement,” with about 76 per cent of its members participating in the ratification vote.
Under the new agreement, all workers would receive a $1 flat rate hourly wage increase, or about 3.59 per cent annually. The government has said this would result in a “significant pay increase” for the union’s lowest paid members.
The bargaining committee also secured repayment for the two days workers participated in a political protest due to Bill 28—legislation that mandated a lesser contract onto workers and made it illegal for them to strike.
A tentative agreement was only reached when education workers agreed to end their province-wide strike in exchange for the government rescinding the legislation.
Laura Walton, the president of CUPE's Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, said she was proud of her members for standing their ground.
“We stared down this government. After a decade of being dictated to, we refused to back down even when our rights to bargain and strike were stripped from us,” she told reporters at a news conference held Monday.
“We shook this province with our protests. We showed Ontarians that you can stand up to a bully for what is just and right. And we ended up with a deal that more than doubled the wage increase that the government tried to force upon us.”
Walton, who previously expressed dissatisfaction over the fact that the new agreement did not include any new money for services and staffing, said she was one of the individuals who voted to accept the agreement.
“I was once told back in my early years that good negotiations mean that both parties walk away disappointed,” she told reporters on Monday, adding that she did expect the results to be “tighter” than it was.
“I think what this showed is we made the right choice as a bargaining committee to bring the deal back to the workers.”
Walton noted that CUPE’s members are “setting the tone” for other unions currently undergoing their own public bargaining, including those representing teachers in Ontario.
“We will stand beside them, and we are going to continue fighting.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce wouldn’t comment on whether they would match this level of salary increase with other unions, saying those discussions are happening “in good faith at the table.”
“We are so pleased we were able to reach an agreement that has been overwhelmingly ratified by the members that keeps kids in the classroom and preserves the learning experience for children,” he told reporters after Question Period.
However, when asked by reporters multiple times whether his government would use the notwithstanding clause as a response to negotiations by other unions, Lecce refused to give a yes or no answer.
“We've been clear that we're going to negotiate in good faith to later deal,” he said, adding that the government has said it won't put forward legislation similar to Bill 28. “Our preference and I think our commitment quite clearly is to negotiate in good faith at the table.”
Members had until Dec. 4 to choose whether to accept or reject the deal.