Strike averted as Ontario reaches tentative deal with education workers

A school strike in Ontario was averted when education workers and the government reached a tentative agreement on Sunday afternoon.

The agreement comes after a weekend of intense negotiations between the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the province.

“There will be no labor action tomorrow,” the union’s bargaining team said in a tweet. “Our members will inform schools to continue supporting the students we are proud to work with.”

The agreement still needs to be ratified by CUPE members. Voting is expected to start on Thursday and be completed next weekend.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board of Unions Council (OSBCU), confirmed that after 170 days of negotiation, the team reached a tentative agreement. However, she didn’t speak very well about what was in the deal.

“The entire central bargaining committee wishes we could have moved the government to make the investment in public education that it not only wanted, but needed and that its children deserve,” he said. “We have done everything possible to represent the needs and interests of workers.”

“We will continue to do that now, returning the tentative agreement to frontline workers for a ratification vote.”

According to Walton, the government made no further concessions over the weekend, adding that the province “did not provide new money for new services.”

“Basically, what this government has told us is that they are not willing to give up any more. We are bringing our members to vote,” he said.

“As a mom, I don’t like this deal. As a worker, I don’t like this deal… I think it falls short.”

Despite saying this, Walton explained that the central bargaining committee will recommend members accept the deal “as required.”

If CUPE members vote not to ratify the tentative agreement, the union and the province will have to return to the bargaining table.

CUPE previously said the government had come to the table with a 3.59 percent wage increase for workers.

This is an increase from his previous offer, which included a 2.5 percent annual increase for workers earning less than $43,000 and a 1.5 percent annual wage increase for those earning more. It was this contract that was required of workers in Bill 28, also known as the “Keep Students in Class Act,” which also used the notwithstanding clause to make it illegal for workers to go on strike.

The bill was rescinded last week as part of an agreement with CUPE to end a two-day protest that closed schools and return to the negotiating table.

Both sides agreed a deadline of Sunday at 5 pm to reach an agreement in order to avoid another strike that would have affected thousands of students, parents and workers.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce called the agreement a “positive outcome for all parties” on Sunday afternoon.

“The biggest beneficiary of this agreement is our children, who will have some stability and will be able to stay in school,” he said. “We are grateful to all parties for working with the government.

“Children deserve to be in class and I am proud to confirm that they will be tomorrow.”

Lecce added that all parties received some “incremental gains” in the tentative deal.

The province is still in negotiations with other education unions, including those representing public school teachers.

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