Ontario school support workers vote to go on strike

Thousands of Ontario school support employees have voted to hit the picket lines late-September, less than a month after students returned to classrooms.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents custodians, early childhood educators and school administrators, says 93 per cent of it members supported job action, which could begin as early as September 30. 

The province-wide ballot took place during August and September after union leaders said negotiations with the Progressive Conservative government stalled over funding cuts affecting workers’ hours. 

“Our plan for job action is about standing up for students and protecting the services that CUPE education workers deliver across the province,” Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), said.

Walton said the central disagreement between CUPE and the government is over the $235 million Local Priorities Fund, introduced by the Kathleen Wynne Liberal government in 2017, as a way to broker peace with education unions ahead of the 2018 election. 

While school boards used the fund to hire between 1,600 to 1,830 full-time education workers, the Progressive Conservative government announced in March that board could no longer count on the money and that it would be subject to contract negotiations. 

“If it takes job action to defend high-quality, well-supported, and well-rounded public education, then CUPE education workers are ready,” Walton said. 

Late last week Walton told CTV News Toronto that she had received “displays of solidarity” from teachers unions and said her “hope would be” that no teacher crosses the picket line. 

While the union entered legal strike position on August 30, Walton said all parties have two more scheduled negotiating dates which could determine the outcome. 

“We’ll continue to do everything we can to avoid a labour disruption,” Walton said in a news release.