OPSEU education workers to walk out in solidarity with CUPE workers planning strike

OPSEU represents education workers such as educational assistants and early childhood educators at several boards in the province

Toronto

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union says its 8,000 education workers will walk off the job Friday in solidarity with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, whose 55,000 education workers are set to strike. 

OPSEU represents education workers such as educational assistants and early childhood educators at several boards in the province.

Many boards with staff represented by the union had previously said the CUPE strike would close its schools — including the Peel District School Board and the York Region District School Board, which account for the largest contingent of members.

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Two others, in Sudbury and Simcoe County, announced Thursday they would close schools as a result of OPSEU’s Friday’s planned walkout.

OPSEU president JP Hornick said legislation the Ontario government is expected to pass that would impose a contract on CUPE education workers and ban them from striking is undemocratic.

“Bill 28 isn’t just an attack on education workers’ collective bargaining rights, it is an attack on all workers’ rights,” Hornick said in a statement.

Two major unions representing elementary school and secondary school teachers and education workers said Thursday they had no plans to stage similar solidarity walkouts but encouraged members to support CUPE outside of working hours. 

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said they encouraged members to join CUPE picket lines before and after work. The two unions are in the midst of contract negotiations with the government. 

ETFO President Karen Brown said the union was lobbying legislators and contacting parents and community groups to rally support for CUPE. 

“This is such a flagrant attack on democracy and our democratic rights at this particular time,” she said. 

“We are working… to examine what are some options, what is available, and how we can continue to support and put pressure on this government.”

The Toronto District School Board has said in-person learning will be cancelled as long as CUPE workers — such as early childhood educators, educational assistants and custodians — are off the job because it can’t ensure schools will remain safe and clean for students.

Several other boards across the province have said they will have to close schools on Friday because they can’t operate safely without the 55,000 workers.

CUPE says the workers plan to be on strike beyond Friday unless a deal is reached.

Daycamps have cropped up across Ontario in response to the planned strike, including at Artists’ Play, a dance and circus arts studio in Toronto. 

Owner Elizabeth Snell said she cut fees for Friday’s strike camp and opened more spots than their typical daycamps, which they regularly organize on school PA days. 

“I’m just trying to make it so that it’s more affordable and accessible for people that need it. But still fun and engaging for the children,” she said. 

Snell said she was prepared to hold daycamps for the extent of a strike. 

“I support the education workers. I just hope that there can be a clear discussion and that they can come to some sort of agreements,” said Snell, who has three school-aged children and whose husband is a teacher. 

“It’s putting everybody in a bad situation, but I don’t think we can be upset at the people wanting to stand their ground.” 

Education Minister Stephen Lecce says he won’t negotiate further unless the union cancels its strike. He says the government “has no choice” but to proceed with its legislation because of CUPE’s strike threat.

The government originally offered raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others, but says the new, imposed four-year deal would give 2.5 per cent annual raises to workers making less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent raises for all others.

CUPE has said that framing is not accurate because the raises actually depend on hourly wages and pay scales, so the majority of workers who earn less than $43,000 in a year wouldn’t get 2.5 per cent.

CUPE has said its workers, which make on average $39,000 a year, are generally the lowest paid in schools and have been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent.

Banner image: Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce answers questions in the Ontario Legislature during Question Period on Tuesday November 1, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2022.

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