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Monday morning strike averted at Ontario schools after deal reached Sunday night – Ottawa Citizen

October 6th, 2019

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A strike by support staff at most of the schools across the province was averted Sunday when a deal was reached just hours before picket lines were set to go up.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce and officials from The Canadian Union of Public Employees said just after 9 p.m. on Sunday that a tentative deal had been reached.

“This is welcome news for families, students, and workers alike, as schools remain open across our province,” said Lecce in a statement. “We will continue to negotiate in good faith to ensure students in this province remain in class.”

Full details of the deal will not be released pending ratification by the 55,000 members of CUPE.

However, CUPE released a statement saying the agreement includes a modest wage increase, retains members’ sick-leave plan and restores many of the cuts the provincial government made to education earlier this year.

The government agreed to renew the “local priorities fund,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.

The fund was negotiated during the last round of bargaining and expired at the end of August when contracts with educators expired. Many school boards used the fund to hire additional teachers and educators for special-education and at-risk students.

The tentative deal “invests in high-quality services for students in Ontario’s schools, now and for the future,” said Walton.

Premier Doug Ford released a statement saying the government “worked tirelessly at the bargaining table to achieve this goal and as a result two million students will remain in the classroom where they belong.”

“Throughout this process our goal has been to establish agreements that respect taxpayers, students and families, while also recognizing the important contributions of our front-line education workers,” said Ford’s statement.

The union had set a deadline of midnight Sunday for reaching a deal.

Hundreds of schools across the province were set to close if there was a strike Monday morning, including all schools at the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

Officials there had said they couldn’t guarantee student safety if there was a strike. The board has nearly 44,000 children at its 67 elementary, 15 secondary and one middle school.

Many parents would have been left scrambling to find babysitters, work at home or take the kids to work.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board’s director of education released a statement Sunday night confirming that schools and daycares located within them would open as usual on Monday. “This is good news for our students and staff,” said Denise Andre.

A CUPE strike would also have affected Ottawa’s two French-language boards, but they had planned to remain open. CUPE doesn’t represent any educational support staff who work in classrooms at either of the French boards.

The largest school board in Ottawa is not affected because no employees at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are represented by CUPE.

CUPE represents office staff; educational assistants who help children with special-education, behaviour or mental health needs; early childhood educators in kindergartens; IT staff; librarians; and custodians, among others. It varies by board. The custodians at the Ottawa Catholic School Board, for example, are represented by another union.

CUPE members began a partial withdrawal of services last Monday. That work-to-rule campaign has ended tending ratification of the deal.

All week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the two sides were close and he was confident a deal could be reached.

A media blackout was imposed on details of negotiations that began Friday afternoon and continued all weekend.

The school boards and provincial government had identified rising rates of absenteeism among CUPE members as a major concern. They had proposed reducing the percentage of pay given CUPE members on short-term disability.

While CUPE officials said the tentative deal made no changes to the sick-leave plan, Lecce said it “strengthens the integrity” of the sick leave program.

The union had said job security, wages and working conditions were key concerns, and had fought the Conservative government’s cuts to some education programs. CUPE says 585 positions have been eliminated this year, and other members have had their hours cut.

Contracts with all the province’s education unions expired at the end of August, but CUPE is furthest along in the bargaining process.

Elementary teachers in English public schools are taking strike votes this month.

with files from the Canadian Press

jmiller@postmedia.com

Twitter: @JacquieAMiller


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