MORRISBURG – Local schools in South Dundas are already seeing the impact of a province-wide work-to-rule campaign by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
The union, began the work-to-rule campaign on September 30 after contract talks with the province broke down over the weekend.
CUPE represents over 60,000 people including custodians, clerical workers, education assistants, early childhood educators, and other non-teaching employees in Ontario’s schools. The union has been without a contract since the end of August.
“What the provincial government and trustees’ associations have done is highly irresponsible,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions. That group is the bargaining unit who negotiates centrally on behalf of the union’s school board members.
“The province and trustees’ associations had it within their power to reach a fair deal that protects services for students. But instead they chose to disrupt students’ education by refusing to see the deal that was there to be made.”
Education minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement that he was “deeply disappointed”, and that CUPE had decided to end the talks “despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table.”
Under the work-to-rule campaign, CUPE members were instructed by the union what to do, and not do, based on the job classifications. For example, custodians are not to attend department meetings, or clean areas of a school not funded by the Ministry of Education like hallways, office areas or gymnasiums. Office administration workers are not to update the school’s website or social media accounts, or operate the door buzzer. EAs are not to complete logs or tracking sheets in writing, and only supervise students they are specifically assigned to.
The work-to-rule campaign prompted an immediate cancellation of all field trips, school athletics, extracurricular activities, and community use of schools in the area’s largest school board, the Upper Canada District School Board. The board announced the cancellations to parents on September 29th.
When asked why athletic programming and field trips were cancelled despite minimal involvement in those activities by CUPE represented employees, UCDSB chair John McAllister said that certain actions were being taken “with a view to maximizing the number of staff present and available in UCDSB schools.”
That includes keeping staff available for supervisions and reducing cleaning requirements “arising from activities other than the core instructional agenda of the school.”
“Community use of schools, and out-of-school and extra-curricular activities in many cases take staff out of school and stretch the school’s capacity to find replacement staff,” McAllister said. “These activities often further create requirements for custodial setup and additional cleaning.”
He added that with the restrictions on CUPE staff, the board needed to take steps to not compound issues including cleaning of gymnasiums and change rooms. McAllister said the board’s priority is to maintain the space for instructional purposes during the school day, “for as long as possible”.
“I do not see how CUPE’s job action warrants cancelling these activities,” said Carole Airhart, president of CUPE local 5678 which presents non-teaching staff at the UCDSB. “In the event a CUPE member at the school was assisting with the coaching duties in a sporting event, he/she should also be replaced with an occasional
employee. That person would also be covering the duties of the absent employee.”
She said that with 140 full-time equivalent staff positions eliminated by the school board, there were replacement staff available to hire.
Airhart also questioned the UCDSB cancelling community use of facilities.
“Community Use of Schools does not take any staff out of the schools and does not require any use of replacement staff,” she said. “Most Community Use of Schools activities are after the school day. If a group comes to play basketball, volleyball, Guides, etc. they usually put up and take down the equipment themselves. If they require tables and chairs they set them up and put them away again.”
Unlike the UCDSB, the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario has not issued a board-wide cancellation of activities.
“The CDSBEO has no plan currently to cancel extracurricular and sports activities,” said Amber Leberge with the CDSBEO. “Our schools are making accommodations, where needed, to continue to offer the highest possible standard of programming under the current circumstances. We continue to monitor the situation closely.”
As of October 1st, CDSBEO extracurricular and sports activities have not been cancelled or modified, except for games and programming which involves the UCDSB.
SD&G high school athletic association games have been postponed due to scheduling issues with the UCDSB cancellations. This affects Cross-Country, Boys Volleyball, Girls Basketball, Tennis, Football, and Rugby seasons so far.
The CUPE work-to-rule campaign is likely only the beginning of job actions involving Ontario’s schools. The Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario, who also has been without a contract since the end of August, is in the process of holding central strike votes. Results from those strike votes will be announced by the end of October. Meanwhile the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation and the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association are still negotiating with the province.
Note – This story has comments from Carole Airhart, local CUPE president, which were received after our print deadline.