Education workers tell Prime Minister ‘Get It Done’: Make a fair deal now to avoid classroom upheaval in September
WINDSOR, Ontario–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Frontline education workers are ready to fight for what students need in the classroom and what they need to do their jobs even better.
The day after a provincial election in which Premier Doug Ford unequivocally assured working people “I will always be behind them” and repeatedly promised to “do it”, and 90 days before the start of the next school year, 55,000 frontline education workers across Ontario keep his word as he serves notice to bargain.
“Now is the time to avoid classroom upheaval in September,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU). “CUPE education workers are ready to negotiate a contract that protects and expands student services while increasing wages for the lowest paid workers in the education system.
“It’s in the power of the re-elected prime minister to avoid more disruption for students this fall,” Walton observed. “He should order his negotiators to sit down with us immediately to strike a deal that puts students and workers first.”
Years of systemic and structural underfunding by this Conservative government, and the Liberal government before it, have resulted in understaffing and unsustainable wages for education workers. Workers’ bargaining demands, if met, would address these systemic issues to meet the needs of students and create good jobs for education workers – two goals that will benefit all communities across the province.
“Guardians need to know there will be enough to fight the next wave of COVID-19. Office workers come in early and stay late – working unpaid time – to protect student safety and keep our schools running smoothly. Teacher assistants are finding that more of them need to be hired to provide the one-on-one supports that students need and parents demand. Early childhood educators need to be in every kindergarten classroom to provide our youngest students with the hands-on experiences that four- and five-year-olds crave,” Walton explained.
“Predominantly female school workers have not been immune to Premier Ford’s focus on private sector jobs,” Walton said. “We remind him that we are making this province work and that we are done with the disrespectful cuts that are scaring away education workers.”
“Whether schools across the province get enough money to stop the damaging cuts is a political choice made by our elected representatives,” Walton said. “Ontario is the wealthiest province in Canada and money controlled by just 59 billionaires has grown by more than $100 billion during the pandemic. This government has no excuse to skimp on the future of our children.
55,000 front-line education workers have served notice to bargain with the Ontario government and Board of Trustees associations. The centralized notice to bargain given by CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU) to the Council of Administrators Associations also serves as notice to bargain locally with 63 English and French public and Catholic school boards.
The Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) calculates that Ford’s Progressive Conservative government cut education funding by $800 per student (adjusted for inflation) during its first term. With two million students in Ontario schools, that translates to a $1.6 billion cut in funding in the 2021-22 school year – money that could be used to improve supports for students, increase staffing levels and increase salaries for education workers.
Education workers deserve a raise. Over the past decade, wages for education workers have fallen significantly below inflation. This is largely due to legislative interference in free collective bargaining which has used the power of the state to limit wage improvements for the lowest paid employees in the education sector. The previous Liberal government’s Bill 115 froze wages for two years. Bill 124 under the current Progressive Conservative government imposed a hard limit of 1% raises per year for three years, even though all the evidence indicated that this would be below inflation and was below trends in the other unionized sectors of the economy. .
The result of these attacks on education workers’ wages and collective bargaining rights has been wage settlements from 2012 to 2021 that stand at 8.8% (compounded) while inflation at the end of 2021 totaled 19.5%. With inflation well above 6% in 2022, this will amount to a 17% pay cut for education workers. This gap between wage increases and inflation has been imposed on workers necessary for the proper functioning of the education system, those who provide vital direct and indirect services to students to make students’ schools work for them. Wage restrictions were imposed on workers, with 84.2% earning less than $50,000 a year and 96.6% earning less than $60,000 a year.
The Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU) brings together 55,000 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) who work in the public, Catholic, English and French school systems of Canada’s largest province. Members of the OSBCU are teacher assistants, school library workers, administrative assistants, custodians and trades people, early childhood educators, child and youth workers, instructors, nutrition service workers, audio-visual technologists, school safety supervisors and social workers.