No talks yet between Elections Canada and CUPE, as possible strike could affect polling stations

Fred Hahn

The head of Ontario's biggest union says there have been no talks yet with Elections Canada, as a strike with school support staff could potentially affect polling stations for next month's federal election. 

"Our focus is focused on resolving that round of bargaining at the bargaining table," CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said Monday, as his group launched a new campaign against the Ford Government. 

The campaign called "Communities Not Cuts" comes as the education ministry is currently in various negotiations involving teachers and other school staff. 

Last week, CUPE filed a no-board report on behalf of 55,000 support staff, which means they would be in a position to strike starting September 23rd. 

Those staffers - including teaching assistants, janitors, librarians and custodians - are currently in a two-week strike vote period, with two days of formal negotiations scheduled for Sept. 17th and 18th.

With so many polling stations located in schools, Elections Canada says there's a preliminary plan of what would happen if a strike laboured onto Election Day on October 21st. 

Unions would be contacted about picket timing and protocols, as well as if electors could be allowed in without too much effort. 

It would also look at hiring extra security and alternate sites, a spokesperson said. 

But Hahn said they're not looking that far into the future.

"We're focused on actually making people who have to sit down at bargaining tables with our members, bargain a collective agreement that preserves services for kids," he said. 

Education Minister Stephen Lecce repeated the government's position that it's working with unions to get a deal done. 

"At the end of the day, the metric of my success is making sure that we're doing everything we can in good faith to get that deal," he said. 

But the new campaign CUPE says will be an aggressive, multi-year effort involving extensive advertising, door-knocking, town halls, MPP riding visits.

When asked if Ontario may see the same kinds of rallies and protests during the Mike Harris era, Hahn said nothing's off-limits. 

"What we're going to do is be guided by our members and by others that we're working with to continue to escalate our actions," he said. "I'm not going to take anything off the table."