After months of contract talks, large-scale rallies, a walkout and controversial legislation that was imposed — and then repealed — Ontario’s education workers ratified a new four-year contract with the province, announced Monday.
“This collective agreement is our first in ten years to be freely bargained instead of forced on us with legislative interference,” said Laura Walton, president of The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), pointing to a 73% vote to accept the tentative agreement. “It’s the product of democracy in action – workers having the freedom to negotiate and to withdraw our labour if necessary.”
The online ratification vote began Nov. 24 and ended Sunday, with 76% of frontline education workers participating, said CUPE, which represents about 55,000 workers.
Locally, Michele LaLonge Davey said she’s happy with the gains made in the deal, but it’s ‘not everything we had hoped for,’ said the Local CUPE 1238 President.
“Now the job is to hold the PC government to account in public education,” she said. “Our relationships with parents and family groups are even stronger and we know together we will continue to make gains for students, communities and families that we serve.
“We made history pushing back Bill 28 and we will continue to make history together moving forward.”
Last month, Premier Doug Ford’s government passed the Keeping Students in Class Act (Bill 28), controversial legislation that would impose a contract on CUPE’s education workers and legally prevent them from striking. That led to a province-wide walkout, including hundreds of education workers and supporters gathered locally outside Bob Bailey’s office.
The legislation was rescinded days later.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s office issued a statement Monday, saying:
“Since negotiations began, we have been guided by the belief that kids should be in class. We are so pleased we’ve been able to reach an agreement that has been overwhelmingly ratified by the members that keeps kids in classrooms and preserves the learning experience, like clubs and extra curriculars.”
Ontario’s education workers represented by CUPE had been without a contract since Aug. 31 and had been trying to improve their working conditions on numerous fronts at the bargaining table. The union represents custodians, early childhood educators, educational assistants, secretaries, library and computer technicians and other school-based and central staff members.
“The agreed wage increase of $1 per hour in each year of a four-year collective agreement will result in wage increases of 3.59% on average across your bargaining unit, or roughly 14.4% compounded over four years,” a CUPE news release noted. “For the lowest paid workers in the education sector, the flat rate of $1 per hour, per year amounts to more: 4.2% each year or 16.8% compounded over four years.
“The bargaining committee also secured repayment for the two days of political protest you were forced to undertake as a result of Bill 28.”
Dave Geroux, president of the St. Clair Education Workers Local 4168, says the deal, “didn’t accomplish everything that education workers and students need…but it was just enough that they hopefully don’t fall further behind over the next four years.
“Now we put our energies into supporting the other unions in their bargaining, and with luck, another group may be able to make gains in the additional supports that students need.”