Education workers in legal strike position Sept. 30

By Jenn Watt

Members of Canadian Union of Public Employees local 997 representing educational assistants clerical and custodial staff in Trillium Lakelands District School Board voted on Sept. 7 to take job action if they cannot come to an agreement at the negotiating table.

Results were not revealed until Monday Sept. 16 so as not to influence voting at other CUPE locals around the province which voted 93 per cent for job action.

Locally the bargaining unit representing office clerical technical and educational assistants voted 97.4 per cent in favour of a strike mandate and custodial and maintenance staff voted 98.8 per cent in favour.

This does not necessarily mean members will strike however.

“I think it sends a clear message to the government and the Council of Trustees’ Associations that the CUPE members the education workers are engaged in the process and they are interested definitely and engaged and participating and are willing to go on strike if we need to” William Campbell CUPE 997 president said. “I don’t think anybody wants to go on strike that’s for sure.”

CUPE members will be in a legal strike position as of Sept. 30. Negotiations are continuing with meetings taking place on Sept. 17 and 18.

“We’ll continue to do everything we can to avoid a labour disruption” a letter to CUPE members from Laura Walton president of Ontario School Board Council of Unions and Darcie McEathron Ontario school board co-ordinator with CUPE reads “but the strike vote results announced today are a confirmation that CUPE members are ready to stand up for students services and workers.”

Across the province CUPE represents 55000 education workers and bargaining has been conducted by CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.

“Because of the Ford government’s cuts to education it’s likely that your child’s school has lost education workers” an open letter to parents and families from the OSBCU’s president Laura Walton reads.

“We do know that cuts to education funding don’t help school boards recruit and retain qualified employees or fill any of the chronic staffing shortages across the province. They don’t stop a revolving door of precarious workers or create stable learning environments for students. We also know that a bigger wave of education cuts is coming in 2020-21 and will hit students even harder” the letter later states.

TLDSB has seen cuts to its budget this year. Communications staff for the board confirmed that “TLDSB received $7.8 million less than last year.”

In June about 70 support staff representing nearly 55 full-time positions were laid off at TLDSB. Since then Campbell said he is aware of about 27 people who have been rehired in various roles though not all positions are permanent and some people were brought back to fill positions left through resignations or retirements.

Campbell said he couldn’t speak to the specifics being discussed at the negotiating table but that “the issues are directly related to our members’ ability to provide top-notch quality services to the students and some of the things that have been proposed by the government would make our jobs much less attractive for people and it’s already hard enough to attract people to these positions.”

He said if negotiations are productive they can continue talking beyond Sept. 30 and he hopes for the best.

With files from Chad Ingram