At the time this week’s editorial was being written, Ontario’s education workers and the provincial government were scheduled to meet in hopes of hammering out an agreement.
The meeting could be viewed as a last ditch efforts of sorts, because if no contract is signed by today, the union has stated it would take legal action starting tomorrow. Ontario Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has countered by introducing legislation to ‘ensure that students remain in class to catch up on their learning.’ Whether that legislation would actually prevent a strike remains to be seen. Ideally, both sides will have reached an agreement and everything else written here will be a moot point. The way talks have gone so far, one would be forgiven if they’re not too optimistic about that happening.
That said, back in 2019 the two sides did reach a last-minute deal just hours before a full-strike was about to take place.
Prior to the Nov. 1 meeting, the latest round of talks broke down between the union and the province so much so that an independent mediator ruled it was pointless to keep trying because of the monumental gap that existed between both offers. CUPE, which represents about 55,000 workers such as educational assistants, custodians and librarians, is said to be seeking a raise to help offset rising inflation. It would be easy to see why some not represented by a union would be cynical of others seeking a raise at a time when all levels of government are crying poor.
While it’s true not every worker has the benefit of a union to help argue their point, not every occupation is regulated by legislation, either, as is the case of education workers. Education workers play a vital role in the day-to-day running of schools, both in the classroom and behind the scenes to ensure students have a safe place to learn every day. They deserve to be compensated for their skills.
Those skills are being put to the test more and more each day as schools take an all-hands-on-deck approach to account for staff shortages. The fact school board across the province, have stated they can’t safely operate in-class learning without education workers highlights just how crucial they are to the classroom. Schools need qualified education workers-and the only way to keep them is to pay them a livable wage.
Concerning the bigger picture, the province’s usage of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ notwithstanding clause to deny unionized workers their rights to bargain and take work action is not something to be ignored. Premier Doug Ford’s government has gone to the biggest hammer it owns to force labour negotiations at the end of a spear and this heavy handed tactic shouldn’t be ignored now or forgotten anytime soon.
Undeniably, the last thing this generation of students need is another disruption to the traditional in-class learning. The pandemic has caused enough damage. At the same time, forcing a deal upon a union and taking away their right to strike is far from good faith negotiating on the part of the government. If a deal can’t be reached by this week, at the very least extending the window with plans for more honest, productive talks while keeping schools staffed would be the next best option for everybody.
A pandemic couldn’t be avoided. A strike could be. Let’s hope for the sake of students, that gets taken into account.
-Adam Prudhomme is the Managing Editor of the Napanee Beaver
PICTURING OUR COMMUNITY