NEWS
09/05/2019 16:26 EDT | Updated 09/06/2019 10:33 EDT

Ontario Education Workers Take 1st Step Toward Strike

A strike can still be avoided if the union reaches a deal with the government.

LWA/Dann Tardif via Getty Images
Students work in a classroom in a stock photo.

TORONTO — Ontario education workers will be in a legal strike position as of the week of Sept. 23, as their union took the first step Thursday toward job action.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees is still in the midst of conducting a strike vote with its members, but on Thursday requested what is known as a “no-board report.”

CUPE representatives said they are confident that members will vote to support job action.

The no-board report starts a countdown toward a potential strike, but in the meantime, there are more bargaining dates scheduled for Sept. 17 and 18.

We don't take any decision like this lightly but it's time that somebody stands up for the services that students are receiving and we see that as our role.Laura Walton

If progress is being made at the bargaining table, workers won’t walk out as soon as they’re in a legal position, said Laura Walton, president of the bargaining agent for CUPE’s 55,000 education workers.

“We don’t take any decision like this lightly but it’s time that somebody stands up for the services that students are receiving and we see that as our role,″ she said in an interview.

Contracts for Ontario’s public school teachers and education workers expired Aug. 31, and the major unions are in various but mostly early stages of bargaining. The talks are happening as the government has ordered school boards to start increasing class sizes, moving to an average for high school from 22 to 28 over four years. Class sizes for Grades 4 to 8 will increase by one student per classroom.

The government has said that will mean 3,475 fewer teachers in the system over four years, achieved by not filling vacancies when teachers quit or retire. Walton said those cuts trickle down and impact educational assistant supports and custodial services as well.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said he is disappointed that CUPE requested a no-board report.

“We continue to call on all parties to reach a deal in good faith, as soon as possible, to provide confidence and predictability to parents, students, and educators alike,” he said in a statement.

Lecce has said he is open to negotiating a smaller boost to class sizes at the bargaining tables.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation has gone to the Ontario Labour Relations Board to determine what issues should be bargained centrally, and what should be dealt with at local tables, and the union is waiting for a decision.