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Mediator calls off contract talks between school support staff and Ontario
Oct. 20, 2022

They’re not talking -- for now.

Negotiations between the province and the union representing 55,000 school support staff have been called off after little progress was made this week despite the help of a private mediator.

Talks will resume Nov. 1.

The province, school boards and CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions began discussions with mediator William Kaplan on Monday, but the sides remain far apart.

In the meantime, CUPE has received the no-board report it requested, meaning it could be in a position to call legal job action or strike as early as Nov. 3, provided school boards are given five days’ notice.

Talks last week had stalled, which prompted the use of the private mediator.

Laura Walton, president of the CUPE school boards bargaining unit, said a work-to-rule wasn’t effective in the last round of negotiations, and a strike is possible.

“In the past, we tried work-to-rule with this government and it meant nothing to them -- in fact, it was only when we went to a (deadline for) full withdrawal of services in 2019, when we were moving towards that, that we were actually able to get them to come and truly negotiate at the table,” Walton said.

“I really hope it’s not going to take that amount of pressure.”

In a statement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that after two years of disruptions because of the pandemic, “students are finally back in class with clubs, sports and a special focus on catching-up. Meanwhile, the education union is once again trying to disrupt in-class learning by refusing to compromise on their unreasonable demand for a nearly 50 per cent increase in compensation” in salary and benefits.

He said the province’s offer retains “a very generous pension and benefit package” as well as 131 sick days, which includes one-offs and short-term leave, with a minor change that would impose a five-day period where workers receive one-quarter of their normal pay before hitting 90 per cent of pay.

“Parents can rest assured this government will not waver in its resolve to keep all students in class, where they belong.”

CUPE is asking for a raise of about 11 per cent a year, while the province is offering two per cent annually over four years for those making less than $40,000, and 1.25 per cent for those earning more than that, as well as increased overtime pay, among other items.

Walton has previously said the union would not agree to a two-tier wage increase, and will hold firm on what it is asking for on salaries.

CUPE workers earn an average of $39,000 a year, but that includes part-time workers. An educational assistant in the Kawartha-Pine Ridge board earns about $35,000 a year, and an early childhood educator in the Catholic District School Board in Eastern Ontario earns almost $37,000.

A maintenance/trade worker in the Hamilton-Wentworth board earns just over $49,000 a year. In Toronto, caretakers earn $52,666 a year and a head caretaker makes $71,323.

The government has not ruled out using back-to-work legislation should school staff or teachers go on strike.

During talks this week, Walton said agreement was reached on one area -- a standard bereavement leave for all workers to replace the patchwork that exists across the province.