Ontario schools prepare plans for strike by support staff

By 
  • October 3, 2019

With educational support staff set to take full-scale strike action Oct. 7, Ontario’s Catholic school boards are reviewing contingency plans with a particular emphasis on student safety and their ability to maintain programming.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the 55,000 education workers set to hit the picket lines, said its members will walk out if there is no deal in place with the provincial government by Oct. 7. CUPE was to be back in negotiations with the province on Oct. 4.

“At this time we remain hopeful that a responsible collective agreement can be reached prior to a full withdrawal of services,” said the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association in a statement. 

The union representing clerical staff, custodians, education assistants, early childhood educators and more in Ontario’s 63 school boards began a work-to-rule campaign Sept. 30 after contract negotiations broke off. The union is seeking better compensation and job security while the province is trying to get its finances in order as it deals with a crippling deficit the ruling Progressive Conservatives inherited from the previous Liberal government.

“Ontario’s Catholic school boards are clearly focused on the best interests of students as they determine next steps” following CUPE’s threatened strike, the OCSTA statement said, adding impacts will vary from board to board. Parents are encouraged to check board websites and social media for the latest updates.

Some boards have already let it be known what their plans are in the event of a strike. The Waterloo Catholic District School Board has already said its schools will be closed if support staff walk out.

“As CUPE represents 1,100 of our school-based staff, we would not be able to safely operate our schools,” the board said in a statement on its website.

There have been calls for teachers to support CUPE by not crossing picket lines. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association said while it fully supports CUPE education workers, it expects its members to continue working.

This is the first union to take a stand and others are expected to follow as unions representing most workers in the education system are in contract negotiations with the province. It’s widely expected to be a tumultuous time in Ontario’s education sector in the coming months as negotiations continue.

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