Windsor-Essex education workers take part in ‘Solidarity Saturday’ as union negotiates with province
The clock is ticking down on a deadline to get a deal between education workers and the province as the two sides try to iron out a collective agreement before 5:00 pm Sunday evening.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents about 55,000 education workers says they will be on strike once again if a deal isn’t reached by that time.
While bargaining remains ongoing, CUPE is hosting solidarity pickets across the province, including one out front of the constituency office of Windsor-Tecumseh Conservative MPP Andrew Dowie.
“Nobody wants to strike but we’re just here to continue to show our support for not just us, but our students and other education workers,” said Jacqueline Ouellette of CUPE local 1348.
If a deal isn’t reached, they will go on strike Monday, which includes roughly 2,000 local educational assistants, early childhood educators, custodians and secretaries.
The government’s most recent offer includes a proposed wage increase of about 15 per cent over four years.
“We are doubling down on all efforts to get a deal. It just requires the union to accept the good proposal before them,” said Ontario’s education minister, Stephen Lecce.
The union also demanding improved services by way of higher staffing levels.
“There’s just not enough resources in the buildings and buy resources, I mean, people,” said Darlene Sawchuk, the president of CUPE local 1358 and long-time educational assistant.
She said current staffing levels are too thin to help students excel, with EA’s spreading their workload across five to seven students apiece.
“And when you feel like all you get to do is put out the fires or manage the basic needs,” Sawchuk said. “You don’t feel like you’re giving your best to students, any students.”
In the event no deal is struck by the deadline, school boards in Windsor-Essex have developed contingency plans.
The Public school board plans to keep schools open but will possibly move online if a deal isn’t reached by Wednesday.
The Catholic board plans to keep schools open, but students in kindergarten or those with complex needs will be given at home work in the interest of health and safety, according to the Windsor-Essex County Catholic School Board.
“It’s a faith based school. It’s all about inclusion, it’s supposed to be an all-inclusive based school,” said Joe Thrasher, whose son Jack is a student with complex needs at Villanova. “You’re getting all this all this funding. And he’s not allowed to go. I think it’s a total scam.”