Ontario parents brace for potential school disruption as clock ticks toward CUPE strike TBEN | TBEN news

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Parents are preparing for some 55,000 education workers to leave their jobs next week if a deal between the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Ontario government cannot be reached before this weekend’s strike TBEN.

A statement from the central negotiating committee of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions Saturday afternoon says it is still at the table and expects to stay there “well into the evening” to get the best deal for students, families and frontline education workers.

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“While we hope that a strike will not be necessary, we are committed to informing parents as much as possible of any work action,” the statement read.

“We are supported by everyone who braved the cold today to show solidarity at more than a dozen rallies across the province, standing together to support the [Doug] Ford Government to make much needed investment in your schools.”

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Saturday morning rallies were held across the province in support of CUPE workers. The rallies mark the third week of solidarity action after the Ford government passed a bill in early November that sought to impose a contract and ban a strike by CUPE teaching staff.

While the bill was withdrawn earlier this week, both the union and the government have yet to reach a new collective agreement, with CUPE sticking to its request for more staff. The final round of talks between the province and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) will conclude at 5 p.m. Sunday.

Educators and supporters gathered Saturday morning in Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square in a rally in solidarity with CUPE education workers seeking a deal with the Ford government. (Prasanjeet Choudhury/TBEN)

“If there is money to give credit for gas stations, to build highways, there is money to put into our schools to make sure students get the support they need,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario, Saturday on TBEN Toronto, while participating in a rally at Yonge-Dundas Square.

“We know it’s more than possible to come to an agreement this weekend.”

Dozens turned out for the rally on Saturday morning, where crowds shouted, “What do we want? A good deal. When do we want it? Now.”

Miriam Zemell, a teaching assistant and school secretary, said she has kept an eye on her 24-year career as student services declined.

“We have these jobs because we really care, we really care about our students,” she said. “I work with a lot of students who are going through a lot of adversity in their lives. I’m here because I really believe in what we’re doing in public education, but we need to get enough support.”

Parents brace themselves for possible strike

Parents across Ontario are awaiting whether or not to send their kids to school on Monday morning.

If they don’t reach an agreement before the Sunday TBEN, teachers will leave work the next day, forcing parents like Jessica Lyons to arrange extra childcare.

“I have a plan for Monday. I have a plan for Tuesday. But moving on, I mean, it’s getting more and more stressful to think about,” she told TBEN Toronto.

Jessica Lyons is shown smiling.
Jessica Lyons, a mom of three elementary school children in Toronto’s west side, says it’s stressful trying to arrange alternative childcare as a potential teacher strike looms. (Jessica Lyons)

Last Wednesday, CUPE issued a five-day strike notice after talks with the province broke down again. That announcement came less than two weeks after the union staged a strike to protest the now-repealed provincial legislation.

Since then, CUPE says both parties have agreed on a pay increase of $1 an hour per year, or about 3.5 percent per year, but the union says it is still fighting for more staffing for teaching assistants, librarians, custodians, secretaries and young children. educators.

What both parties want

“We need to see money put into services that students and families need, that they need,” Laura Walton, president of CUPE, told TBEN’s Metro Morning on Friday.

“Parents shouldn’t be given money and say, ‘Go find these services,'” she said. “These services can be provided … in our public schools.”

In a statement Saturday afternoon, Education Secretary Stephen Lecce said the province has already funded the hiring of nearly 7,000 additional workers in the industry, which he says has one of the best pensions, benefits and paid sick leave programs in the country.

“To keep children in the classroom, we have repeatedly enhanced our offerings to CUPE, including an additional $335 million pay increase for education staff alone,” the statement read.

“We need the union to do the same and put kids first by canceling their second strike in two weeks. After years of struggle, like all parents in this county, we know that students deserve to to be in class on Monday.”

The province agreed to provide free childcare for primary school children of health workers and certified child care workers, if a strike does happen.

But the constant back-and-forth between CUPE and the province has frustrated parents like Bronwen Alsop of the Ontario Families Coalition.

“I want school to be essential,” she told Radio-Canada. “It’s not something you can … turn on and off and shut down when it’s politically best for your union or for your political gain. It’s wrong.”

Bronwen Alsop wears glasses and a toque in front of a snowy backdrop.
Bronwen Alsop, a parent with the Ontario Families Coalition, says schools are essential and must remain open as CUPE and the province negotiate a deal for education workers. (Alexis Raymon/TBEN)

In light of school closures during the pandemic and issues with remote learning, Alsop said she believes students should stay in class while the union and the county negotiate.

For most other students in the province, school boards are planning to move to live virtual learning, in some cases as early as Monday.

But in many cases, distance learning is not a suitable substitute for face-to-face learning,” said Lyons.

She wants to see more permanent solutions.

“Public education needs to be strengthened. It needs more money,” Lyons said.

“We’re on the same side as education workers because that’s what they see too.”

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