Update: Kenora Catholic schools will close on Friday.
Mediation between the Ontario government and the Canadian Union of Public Employees has ended without a new deal in sight – and roughly 60,000 education workers from two unions are set to strike on Friday.
As a result, the Ontario government is expected to pass legislation today to force workers to stay on the job. Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act, is set to mandate a new 4-year deal for CUPE members, which leadership rejected earlier this week.
“We know that there’s no substitute for in-person learning for our students. We are advocating and committing for them to be in school,” explained Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education, Patrice Barnes, in an interview with Q104, KenoraOnline and DrydenNow.
The bill will make strike-action illegal, with Ontario warning that each person who participates could face fines of up to $4,000. Premier Doug Ford says he was left with ‘no choice’ but to introduce the bill, as students have suffered enough over the past two years.
But there’s a new issue for schools – OPSEU’s education workers now plan to join CUPE members during Friday’s strike action, which is expected to close down even more classrooms in northwestern Ontario.
“You didn’t ask to be on the front lines of this fight, but you are strong. And we will have your back when you go out on Friday,” said President JP Hornick. “We have 8,000 education workers in our union. If you all walk out together on Friday, there is safety in numbers.”
The Kenora Catholic District School Board says OPSEU’s statement may force school closures in the area, and a final decision will be made later today. KCDSB OPSEU staff include education assistants, early childhood educators and lunch hour monitors.
Families are asked to watch their emails for any communications from the board.
Meanwhile, there is no OPSEU staff with the Keewatin-Patricia District School Board and classrooms are set to stay open during CUPE’s strike action. Director of Education Christy Radbourne says non-union staff members are being brought in to fill gaps and support students.
Although, KPDSB schools may be forced to close down if the strike action continues past Friday.
The Ontario government and the Canadian Union of Public Employees have been negotiating a new contract for over 50,000 education workers since the summer. A 5-day strike notice was issued to school boards and the province on October 30.
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.
CUPE has been 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.
CUPE leadership rejected Ontario’s ‘final offer’ earlier this week, prompting Education Minister Stephen Lecce to announce the Keeping Students in Class Act on October 31. Ontario's MPPs will be voting on the act today.