Potential job action by support workers looms in Peel schools
Photos by Mansoor Tanweer/Government of Ontario

Potential job action by support workers looms in Peel schools

School support staff in Peel Region and across Ontario will take the first step on Wednesday toward possible job action, starting as early as next Monday.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents roughly 55,000 non-teaching staff, including custodians, administrative assistants, librarians and some early childhood educators, among others, will issue a formal notice of action, which will place them in a legal position to strike five days later. The workers last week voted 93 per cent in favour of job action.

Protesters gathered in front of Queen's Park in the spring after the Ford government announced its education cuts

The union plans to begin a work-to-rule campaign next week. It’s not clear yet what that will mean in Peel schools, but even without the drastic effects of a full strike, it’s likely to mean dirtier schools, administrative tasks left undone and other supports for students and teachers lacking.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce acknowledged that talks broke down with CUPE this past weekend. “Our government remains focused on keeping kids in the classroom and delivering a deal that gives students and parents predictability and certainty. This will not change,” Lecce said in a statement Tuesday. “I urge CUPE and the employers to come back to the table and direct their efforts toward reaching a deal as quickly possible. Our government remains available at any time to restart talks with CUPE and keep students in school. Kids and parents deserve no less.” 

Education Minister Stephen Lecce visits with school children

The major issue is reported to be job security. Several hundred support roles were cut across the province as part of the cost-cutting moves by the Doug Ford government that also resulted in much larger average high school classes and initial layoff notices to 330 teachers in the Peel District School Board alone. 

In the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), there are approximately 410 CUPE staff in a range of positions, such as secretaries, clerks, library technicians, buyers, technical support specialists, supply chain expeditors and personnel assistants.

“CUPE Provincial has taken all of the necessary steps required by legislation to place themselves in a legal strike position by Sept. 30, 2019,” said Bruce Campbell, general manager of communications and community relations at the DPCDSB. He added that the Catholic board hasn’t received notice of job action from the union yet.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) told The Pointer at midday on Tuesday that secondary teachers, though they have been without a contract since Aug. 31, “are not in a legal strike position” yet and remain focused on negotiations. The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) told The Pointer it “has no plans” to strike. “Our locals are taking a strike vote as part of central bargaining over the next month,” said Valerie Dugale, of ETFO media relations. 

Students across Peel took part in a province-wide walkout this spring to protest education cuts

Later in the day Tuesday, the OSSTF did something unprecedented: it released its bargaining proposals, in hopes of making negotiations more transparent, the union said. OSSTF/FEESO president Harvey Bischof told Global News that the union’s proposals consist of a request to reverse class size increases and to link a teacher’s annual pay raise to the consumer price index. 

Like the OSSTF and the ETFO, Peel District School Board chair Stan Cameron was short on details about the CUPE action. “Until we are informed by CUPE of any specific job action, we cannot comment on any possible impacts,” he told The Pointer, referencing a note that the board shared on its website. 

The message stated, in part: “You may be hearing about potential Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) job action in schools across Ontario beginning next week. In the Peel District School Board, CUPE represents administrative assistants, library technicians, custodial, maintenance and AV repair staff. Although CUPE includes Early Childhood Educators in other school boards, they are not represented by CUPE in the Peel board … We must be informed of any job action five days in advance. If we become aware of any job action, we will communicate with staff and families as soon as possible. We want to be able to share what the job action is and the possible impacts it will have on learning and working in Peel schools and work sites.” 

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, as well as CUPE members in Peel, were not available for comment by press time.


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