Schools prepare for likely labour disruption

TORONTO – Labour issues between the Ontario government and the union representing school board custodians, educational assistants and other non-teaching positions may mean a day or more off school.

The Ontario School Board Council of Unions, a bargaining unit of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, notified the province of strike action on November 4 if no agreement is reached.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce introduced strike-banning legislation on October 31 which will impose a four year contract on the union.

The bill, named the Keeping Students in Class Act, uses Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, otherwise known as the Notwithstanding Clause, to override the collective bargaining process and bans the union’s right to strike.

The legislation is expected to pass by November 4 as the union and Ministry of Education continue their impasse in their negotiations. On Wednesday (November 3) the OSBCU extended a revised offer to the Ministry of Education, however Minister Lecce said his ministry would not consider the offer unless scheduled strike action is cancelled.

Lecce told Global News Thursday morning (November 3) that negotiations with CUPE/OSBCU would end immediately once the government’s legislation passes.

Laura Walton, president of the OSBCU, told reporters Wednesday: “At this point, without anything changing, we are on strike until further notice unless a deal is reached.”

Local school boards are dealing with the uncertainty of an education strike or protest by OSBCU members by making alternative arrangements including switching to online/remote learning or closing schools.

In its update Thursday morning, the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario said, “We have learned that CUPE, the union representing support workers in our Board, intends to engage in a full withdrawal of services to our schools on Friday, November 4. As we cannot safely operate schools without CUPE staff, all schools in the CDSBEO will be closed to students if a resolution is not reached today. We will continue to monitor and provide information to families as it becomes available to us.”

That board had already announced that its teachers, who are not represented by CUPE/OSBCU would connect with students via its online learning platforms through the duration of the labour disruption.

The Upper Canada District School Board said that with 25 per cent of that board’s employees being CUPE members, its schools will close November 4 if labour action moves ahead.

“If CUPE participates in any kind of labour action or protest that takes staff out of schools, all UCDSB schools will be closed to students,” the UCDSB said in an update. “We cannot safely operate schools without these employees.”

Students are being sent home with school materials November 3 for independent work on Friday if schools are closed.

“We do not know how long this type of job action would last. Our schools will remain closed for the duration of any job action that takes CUPE workers out of classrooms,” the UCDSB said. “If labour action continues into next week, teachers will provide synchronous (real-time) online learning starting on Monday, November 7.”

The UCDSB also cancelled all Community Use of its schools from November 4-7 due to the possible action.

“Our custodial staff may not be available to set up, take down, or clean our facilities and we cannot guarantee that our facilities will be available or suitable for Community Use bookings,” said coordinator Lisa Hunt.

Other school boards across the province are also cancelling classes, closing schools, or moving to remote learning for the day.

Education unions in Ontario have been without a contract since August 30, 2022. The OSBCU/CUPE contract is the first of five major agreements up for negotiation. The remaining four unions are the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, and the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens. Combined the unions represent over 200,000 teachers in the province.

Since you’re here…

… Thanks for reading this article. Local news is important. We hope that you continue to support local news in your community by reading The Leader, online and in print. Please consider subscribing to the print edition of the newspaper. Click here to subscribe today.

Subscribe to Email Alerts

Enter your email address to subscribe to Email Alerts and receive notifications of new posts by email whenever The Leader publishes new content on our website.