COLIN MACKAY: Government nickel-and-diming CUPE

Colin MacKay

Share Adjust Comment Print

Reaching a deal through collective bargaining usually takes time, and more than a few meetings.

If the meetings are unsuccessful a number of options can present themselves.

This past weekend, despite 17 hours of negotiating, the Province of Ontario, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and trustee’s associations (CTA) could not complete a deal. CUPE has decided its best option at the moment is to implement work-to-rule at the majority of public schools in Ontario. CUPE represents roughly 55,000 educational support staff, including caretakers, educational assistants (EAs), clerical office workers, Early Childhood Educators (ECEs) and others. Work-to-rule means only work defined specifically in a contract will be completed. While the province will complain this is a withdrawal of core services, it is not. The CUPE workers simply will not do any administrative work for the most part, which will have minimal impact. However, CUPE members often do extras for which they are not specifically paid, such as working through their breaks. Hopefully, a deal can be made quickly that will satisfy both parties.

The main sticking point appears to be current level of absenteeism and the amount of money CUPE workers receive when they are sick or unable to work. CUPE workers make, on average, about $38,000 a year. The workers receive 11 sick days at 100 per cent pay and 120 days of pay at 90 per cent. The government is looking to decrease that percentage. CUPE is arguing that to reduce that percentage, at all, when a worker is off essentially on sick leave, would place that employee in considerable financial stress. The issue being lost in this battle – why are that many workers off on sick leave? Schools have become considerably more violent in recent years, say former colleagues. ECEs and EAs being bitten, kicked, spit at, punched, has risen over the years. Their numbers have declined over the past few years too, as the Ford government attempts to save money.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, and Stephen Lecce apparently disagree on what constitutes a reasonable offer. In a letter to trustee’s, school board chairs and directors of education, Lecce writes, ‘The Crown and CTA have been negotiating in good faith since day one, and I want to assure you that the proposals offered CUPE have been reasonable and in the best interest of the students.’

Walton, on the other hand, disagrees, believing that ‘…we don’t believe that reasonable is good enough. We don’t believe that having safe places such as libraries closed over lunch is reasonable. We don’t believe that students not able to access sufficient supports is reasonable…. We don’t believe that our most vulnerable workers losing a significant amount of pay in their time of need to be reasonable. We believe that students deserve a quality public funded, publicly delivered education that is based on their needs to be reasonable.’ Both mentioned students and how they want the best for them. Lecce is attempting to do more with less. Walton realizes  there have been far too many CUPE people lose their jobs, as a result of cuts. She is fighting to keep cuts at zero losses of personnel.

The students benefit from having sufficient educational support staff in schools. Removing adults hurts the most vulnerable students as they lose contact with caring adults within the school setting. The government has already capped wages at one per cent for the public sector per year. Essentially, with inflation running around two per cent, this would be a cut. CUPE members are not getting rich but they provide students a rich learning environment. To nickel and dime CUPE workers is totally unnecessary. Labour peace has been in place for a few years, but apparently, not this school year.