Educational Assistants, office staff and custodians are poised to walk the picket line at several school boards across Ontario.
The union representing some 55-thousand education workers said contract talks have failed and unless something changes over the weekend, they'll be on strike as of Monday. Ottawa's public school board won't be impacted by this strike since their members fall under a different union, but students at just about every other board in our viewing area will be. CUPE members represent the maintenance and office staff, the educational assistants and early childhood educators. The union says their impact is profound; their absence will be, too.
Among those potentially on strike are educational assistants or E.A.'s working sometimes one on one with children with special needs; children like 6-year-old Jack Monaghan who has severe autism. His mom says if his E.A. isn't in class on Monday, Jack won't be either.
“My son's E.A. sits next him every day,” Monaghan said, “She never leaves his side. My son is a flight risk, if she's not there, he's gone.”
And it's not just E.A.s that may be not be there if talks don't resume.
At Ottawa's Catholic School board, it's some 2500 members who may be on the picket line. Custodial staff are not part of the bargaining unit in this board. At the Upper Canada District School board, 16-hundred employees, including custodial staff, would be impacted. Three other boards, including the French Catholic school board of Eastern Ontario, the English Catholic school board of Eastern Ontario and the French Public School board of Eastern Ontario, will also be affected. It will be business as usual, though, at the Ottawa Carleton District School Board since CUPE doesn't represent their members.
Sherry Wallace is the president of CUPE’s local 2357, “It's unfortunate but we're doing this for the students,” she says, “so we're showing that services have been cut, and that's impacting students to get the services they deserve in schools.”
The two sides seem far apart at this point. Ontario's Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a news conference in Toronto that he's offered bargaining dates to CUPE.
“I call on CUPE to lock (those dates) in, to move forward and get back to table to resolve this unnecessary disruption for our students.”
CUPE, however, has another story.
“I have looked in my calendar, I have looked in my email,” said Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, “I have not seen a single offer of any dates. Let's get to the table and make this happen.”
These CUPE members have never been on strike before. They came close to it in 2014 but that got resolved before they withdrew services, something they hope will happen this time too.
“We hope getting back to bargaining table will re-evaluate the cuts the government made and provide services back to the boards,” Sherry Wallace said.
CUPE says this isn't about money but points out that the average E.A. makes about $38,000 a year. Ontario's Education Minister counters that these jobs are good ones and so, he says, is their offer.