The Ontario government says it’s introducing legislation to keep kids in class and end any possible strike action from education workers – but the union says members will be out on the picket lines regardless by Friday.

The province and the Canadian Union of Public Employees have been negotiating a new contract for over 50,000 education workers – including custodians, early childhood educators, administrators and more since the summer – but a countdown was triggered on the process last month.

On October 19, CUPE announced that a conciliator had issued a ‘no board report’ – marking the start of a 17-day countdown to November 3. Once that day, this Thursday passes, CUPE will be in a legal position to strike as long as they provided a 5-day notice to school boards.

That 5-day notice was issued to school boards and the province on Sunday, October 30.

Facing upcoming strike action, Education Minister Stephen Lecce scheduled a press conference on October 31. In it, he announced the Keeping Students in Class Act, that if passed, would mandate and force a new 4-year deal on CUPE’s members.

“Students are finally back in class catching up, following two years of pandemic disruptions. We are disappointed that CUPE is refusing to compromise on their demand for a nearly 50 per cent increase in compensation, representing a price tag close to $19 billion,” said Lecce.

For context, talks between the two parties began after the province unveiled their 4-year plan for education workers earlier this year, which called for 2 per cent wage increases for staff earning under $40,000 and increases of 1.25 per cent for everyone else.

With Canada’s inflation rate at nearly 7 per cent, CUPE began calling for wage increases of nearly 12 per cent for all workers – with increases in overtime pay, additional education assistants and custodians, as well as increased staffing levels in libraries, offices and lunchrooms.

Now, Ontario says their ‘final offer’ includes:

- 2.5 per cent wage increases for employees earning under $43,000 annually,
- 1.5 per cent wage increases for employees earning above $43,000 annually,
- A $6,120 employer-contributed benefits increase,
- Funding to support up to 875 teachers and up to 1,830 education workers,
- Modifications to sick leave and short-term disability leave plan provisions,
- $4.5 million in funding for apprenticeship training,
- An extension of modified job security provisions,

In response, CUPE stressed the government’s offer wasn’t good enough for workers and the union won’t fall for the Conservatives’ ‘bully tactics’. The union adds there are three more days of scheduled negotiations, despite this legislation being introduced.

“Lecce calls this offer a generous one,” said President Fred Hahn. “A half percent wage increase to an already-insulting offer isn’t generous. An additional $200 bucks in the pockets of workers earning 39K isn’t generous. It wouldn’t even be generous to accept our proposal – it would be necessary, reasonable, and affordable. It’s simply what’s needed in our schools.”

CUPE says members will be engaging in a province-wide strike on Friday, unless a deal is reached.

The last time this group of education workers threatened strike action was in 2019 – which included a partial withdrawal of cleaning services. A five-day province-wide strike action notice was issued, but a last-minute deal was reached shortly afterwards.

When this fight ends, Ontario will then have to set its sights on four major teachers’ unions – whose contracts all expired on August 31, 2022.