Published November 17, 2022

If education workers strike on Monday, public and catholic schools in Simcoe County and Muskoka will be closed

It would be the second time the 55,000 workers go off the job this month, if a deal isn't reached

By Sharif Hassan in Toronto

Files from Barrie 360

Parents in Ontario were bracing Thursday for the possibility of a strike by education workers next week that would close schools to in-person learning.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees gave a five-day strike notice on Wednesday after bargaining with the province broke down, and workers are set to walk off en masse on Monday if a deal isn't reached.

It would be the second time the 55,000 workers go off the job this month, and several school boards have said learning will move online in the event of a strike.

If there is a strike on Monday, schools with the Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB), Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) and Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) will be closed.

CUPE represents custodians at the SMCDSB, and custodians and maintenance staff at the SCDSB. At TLDSB, clerks, secretaries, technicians, custodians and maintenance staff, and educational assistants fall under the CUPE umbrella.

Khalel Shah, a Toronto father of four, said a possible strike will be challenging. While his wife isn't working at the moment, taking care of a toddler and supervising online learning for three elementary-school kids will be hard, he said.

"Definitely it is going to be difficult for parents. This looks like it is a looming crisis," he said outside Thorncliffe Park Public School after dropping off his children on Thursday morning.

Online learning has its own set of challenges, he added.

"I got three kids in school and I got one laptop at home," he said, noting his children are in kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 3.

Shah called on the government and CUPE to come to an agreement that would see kids able to stay in school.

"If CUPE actually cares about the kids that they are working with, and they care about the teachers that they are helping and assisting, they would have been thinking way ahead and had resolved this," he said.

CUPE's education workers, including education assistants, early childhood educators and custodians, walked off the job for two days earlier this month after the province enacted legislation that imposed a contract on them and took away their right to strike.

The government then promised to repeal the legislation and the workers returned to their jobs as bargaining resumed.

Belona Stublla, a Toronto mother of a preschooler and a kindergartner, said the previous school closure over the CUPE walkout this month made it nearly impossible to get any work done, even though she can work remotely.

"I probably managed to work for an hour the entire day," she said, adding that she'd have to work at night after her kids are asleep in the event of a strike.

"It is not productive."

The prospect of having her kindergartner sit through online learning was also a daunting one, Stublla said.

"She loses interest very fast,” Stublla said. "I have to be very involved so (I am) pretty much losing the entire day."

Toronto parent Tanvir Chowdhury, who has a child in school, said kids and their families will be hit the hardest if CUPE and the province don't reach a deal before the strike deadline.

"It is the children who are going to suffer," he said.

CUPE said the two sides recently agreed on a 3.59 per cent wage increase, but the union is still fighting for higher staffing levels for educational assistants, librarians, custodians, secretaries and early childhood educators.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government has put forward multiple improved offers and has not asked for any concessions.

Banner image: Laura Walton, the president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, speaks to the media in Toronto on Wednesday, November 16, 2022, as the union gives notice of a strike action in their ongoing dispute with the Ontario government. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2022.

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