Ontario education strike: Lecce speaks during early morning debate

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce refined his “keep the kids in school” mantra during an early morning debate in a bid to push through anti-strike legislation that could prevent 55,000 education workers quitting their jobs on Friday.

The Legislature met at 5am today for the second reading of the ‘Keeping Pupils in Schools Act’, which seeks to impose a four-year contract on education workers and their prohibit strikes.

“Right now is a critical time for our students. Right now, our students need uninterrupted classroom learning,” Lecce said during his hour-long opening statement on Tuesday morning.

His remarks largely focused on the need to « keep the kids in school » after two years of pandemic-disrupted learning and made little mention of the support staff sitting on the other side of the bargaining table.

« Young people have borne the brunt of this pandemic as their lives have been suspended, » he said.

The provincial government is aiming to pass this law before the strike scheduled for Friday. Lecce introduced the bill on Monday after an emergency mediation session the day before between the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), the province, a mediator and school board representatives failed to reach an agreement. .

Lecce said it was the Progressive Conservative’s « moral obligation » to introduce this legislation because it brings « stability » to students and protects their right to learn.

‘I am concerned about the impacts of the closure…we cannot afford any more disruption,’ the education minister said.


Members of the Ontario legislature opposed to the anti-strike bill say it’s ‘awful’ that the average wage for a worker in the CUPE bargaining unit asking for a wage increase is 39,000 $ as inflation hits double digits.

They also pointed to the 27-week closure of classrooms in the province, which they called the « worst pandemic toll of any province », as the government’s fault to blame – not the education workers. .

« This is a debate about the foundations of our democracy, » said Chris Glover, MPP for Spadina-Fort York, in response to the government’s intention to invoke the notwithstanding clause, which allows the legislature provincial government to override certain parts of the charter.

In this case, the province is aiming to pass its anti-strike bill and forestall constitutional challenges, which Glover called a “slippery slope” that he finds “extremely frightening.”

Noting that the majority of education workers are women, Windsor West MLA Lisa Gretzky said the proposed legislation « intimidates women ».

“What this says to all women in the province is what they have been saying for centuries, centuries, to women. Just go sit in a corner and shut up,” she said.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the fight is « far from over. »

“I think what we need to remember is that if it was really about securing a good deal, if it was about preventing a strike, there are so many other options that to take away charter rights and human rights for workers. It clearly shows what the minister wanted all along,” Walton told CP24 on Tuesday morning.


Despite possible legislation, CUPE, which represents janitors, librarians, early childhood educators, teacher aides and administrative staff on Ontario’s Anglophone and Francophone public and Catholic boards, says its members will still leave Labor Friday for a one-day event.

The Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School Board said they would be closed to in-person learning on Friday if the walkout goes as planned. Durham’s English and Catholic public councils also plan to do the same.

Education workers in Ontario have not had a collective agreement since August 31 and despite several rounds of talks, a new one has yet to be negotiated.

Among other things, CUPE is calling for an annual wage increase of $3.25/hour (11.7%), for early childhood educators in every kindergarten class, five extra days paid before the start of the year school, 30 minutes of daily paid prep time, increased overtime, and a $100 million investment in new job creation.

The Ford government’s latest offer, offered during an emergency mediation session on Sunday afternoon, is a four-year deal that includes a 2.5% annual raise for workers earning less than $43,000 and an annual salary increase of 1.5% for those who earn more. This represents an increase from their initial offer of annual increases of a 2% increase for workers earning less than $40,000 and a 1.25% increase otherwise.

In early October, CUPE announced that its members had voted 96.5% in favor of a work stoppage if a contractual agreement could not be reached with the provincial government.

The union then asked the Ontario Ministry of Labor to grant what is called a no-commission report, which means a conciliation board will not be appointed. This green light, which allowed workers to legally leave work in 17 days (November 3), was given on October 17. Five days’ notice must be given before the union can call a strike.

Last week, high-profile negotiations began between the two sides, but broke down after just two days.

Ontario’s five major education unions are currently in the midst of negotiations with the province after their contracts expire on August 31.

More soon. This is a developing story.


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