Despite desire to speak sooner, school support staff bargaining talks continue Friday afternoon


Both Ontario's education minister and the lead negotiator for CUPE say despite the desire to get back to the bargaining table sooner, talks to hopefully prevent a strike of school support staff will resume late Friday afternoon. 

"We stood ready on Sunday, I can't speak to what has motivated the union on Sunday to walk away, Monday to announce partial withdrawal of service, Wednesday to go to a full-out strike decision," minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday morning. 

On Wednesday, CUPE announced it was moving forward with a full strike action beginning October 7th, if a new collective bargaining agreement could not be reached between the government and its 55,000 members. 

Lecce said after talks broke off Sunday, he instructed his negotiators to extend additional dates and was prepared for any day this week. 

"I would've loved to have done this three days ago, I would've preferred to have a deal last Sunday, given how close we were, but fundamentally they made a choice to walk and we're just happy they're back," he said. 

However, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions Laura Walton said they've been waiting. 

"This was the dates and times that we were offered and so we took the first available dates and times that were offered to us," she said. 

Walton said she only learned of the proposed dates Wednesday afternoon, after she publicly announced the potential strike action. 

"We have our folks on standby, our folks are all over the province and so we were ready to go," she said. 

Walton did add there may be another reason why they can't talk sooner: that other education groups, including teachers, are dealing with their own talks with the government. 

"They already have had dates set with the Council of Trustees Association and I understand that they're trying to get through their negotiation process as well," she said. "That's the only reason that I could think of, of why the delayed start." 

Even if a deal is reached this weekend for staff, there's still the possibility of potential teacher action, with no new deal in place. 

Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation President Harvey Bischof said he'll be supporting CUPE, but his members are still required to go to work. 

Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario President Sam Hammond said he is directing his members to do their jobs as well, but is encouraging them to walk the picket lines outside of their duties.