/CUPE workers back in schools

CUPE workers back in schools

By James Matthews, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Students at Trillium Lakelands district schools were provided asynchronous work on Monday to get through a labour dispute that affected schools, but schools are now back open.

Premier Doug Ford offered to start the wheels going toward repealing Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act, legislation designed to make the labour disruption illegal. Government used Section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, called the Notwithstanding Clause.

The caveat was that legislation would be scrapped if the Canadian Union of Public Employees tore down their picket lines and returned to negotiations. They walked off the job Nov. 4 in protest of Bill 28.

The union represents the board’s secretaries, clerks, computer technicians, custodial and maintenance staff, and educational assistants.

As of Haliburton Echo press time, Trillium Lakelands District School Board announced CUPE workers have returned to schools as of Tuesday, Nov. 8, and in-person classes resume.

Many school boards throughout the province had their students learning by way of online classroom platforms (Google Classroom, Brightspace, Seesaw) on Monday, Nov. 7. It harkens back to the early shut-down days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schools lended available technology to student who don’t have access to a computer, said Wes Hahn, the board’s director of education.

The union’s wage proposal was an increase of $3.25 per hour each year in a three-year collective agreement. Government offered 2.5 per cent wage increases for workers who earn less than $43,000 a year and an increase of 1.5 per cent for people who earn more.

Hahn said the school board couldn’t safely operate schools without the union’s workers there for students.

“It is important to note that other school boards across the province may have different or fewer employee groups as part of CUPE and, therefore, would be able to keep their schools open,” he said.

Ford said during a press conference on Nov. 7 that the Keeping Students in Class Act could be rescinded if the union ended the labour disruption and returned to work while negotiations resumed.

“We’re willing to make a fair deal,” the premier said. “One that offers more help for lower income workers. We want a deal that’s fair for students, fair for workers, fair for parents, and fair for taxpayers.

“We know we can get there.”

He said a deal with CUPE has impacts on broader public service salaries as well as the government’s ability to invest in services.

“These are complex discussions, especially given the economic climate we’re in,” Ford said. “Record high inflation, economic uncertainty, cost of living challenges that every family is facing.”

One union member who didn’t want her name used said it’s that economic climate and financial uncertainty that adds to the need for more reasonable wages.

“Try making the ends meet when you’re getting $40,000 a year,” she said.

Bill Campbell is president of CUPE Local 997, which has members at schools in Haliburton County. He said there’s much jubilation on the local picket lines and a lot of support in the community.

“There’s a lot of people honking their horns,” he said. “There’s a lot of support here. There’s grandparents holding CUPE signs. It’s really cool.”

Campbell said it’s early days in the labour disruption and there’s no telling when there’ll be an end in sight.

For updates, visit www.tldsb.ca/labour-updates/.