TORONTO – Education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) in Ontario have voted to ratify a central collective agreement that guarantees the restoration of vital services to students and the return of 1,300 support staff jobs in the province’s schools.
“We are pleased that CUPE members have ratified an agreement that restores the tens of thousands of services hours for Ontario students cut by the Ford government earlier this year,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), which leads central negotiations on behalf of 55,000 CUPE members, in a release.
The return of 1,300 support staff jobs, lost because of those same cuts, is due to funding of up to $78 million annually being restored.
The deal, between CUPE and OSBCU on one side, and the Council of Trustees Association and the Government of Ontario on the other, was struck on October 6, when CUPE education workers were only hours away from a full walkout after a work-to-rule job action in 63 school boards. In the wake of this breakthrough in bargaining, rank and file CUPE members from 109 school board bargaining units voted between October 15 and November 1 on the tentative agreement.
“I am enormously proud to be in a union with workers, and a part of communities, who collectively reversed the mean-spirited deep cuts of the Ford Conservatives,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario. “Tens of millions of dollars is pumped back into our schools because CUPE members stood strong against concessions and in defence of services supported by parents, students, and others in the education sector.”
CUPE/OSCBU now sets it sight on next steps, describing this deal as an opportunity to keep the spotlight on the damage that chronic underfunding has done to Ontario’s system of public education.
“While we’re pleased to centrally ratify this agreement that provides security of services, this is just the beginning,” said Ms. Walton. The one percent wage increase, for instance, was bargained in the shadow of the proposed Bill 124, which would restrain Ontario’s public sector worker’s wages. “It does not reflect what CUPE members deserve, and we still need to move forward on fixing issues such as violence in schools, including the epidemic of bullying, that affects everyone in schools.”
CUPE also sends a message of solidarity to teachers, specifically noting last week’s announcement that Ontario’s elementary teachers voted overwhelming in favour of a strike. “We made strides because our communities stood together,” said Mr. Hahn. “This is all because of the education workers, and their allies, who participated in strike preparations, rallies, info pickets, community outreach, and job actions. So, as our teachers continue to bargain to reverse deep education cuts, our message to the Ford government is that we will not be pitted against each other. Together, we can stop cuts and strengthen the public education system to build the schools all kids deserve.”