School support staff threaten job action

Credits: Clifford Skarstedt/Peterborough

Jonathan Jenkins | QMI AGENCY

TORONTO - CUPE school support staff are promising a wicked hangover if Education Minister Laurel Broten doesn't extend her New Year's Eve contract deadline.

"Dec. 31 is an impossible date. We need more time," CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn said Thursday. "Without more time, we will be left with no other option than to engage in political protest involving job action."

CUPE's 55,000 educational workers include janitors, teacher's aides and lunchroom supervisors.

If the union can't reach their own agreements with school boards by Dec. 31, Broten can impose a contract on CUPE, as well as the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, which would freeze wages for two years.

But the unions say their main complaint is not wages but the government forcing them to accept a deal without negotiations -- which they say will damage collective bargaining and tramples on their Charter rights.

They're challenging the law in the courts and have held a series of one-day strikes across the province to protest it.

Hahn said CUPE workers could stage work-to-rule campaigns or set up information pickets -- even though Broten has the power to forbid such actions.

"It's about money," Premier Dalton McGuinty said. "Whenever someone says it's not about money -- it's about money."

Broten said in a statement local agreements are still possible and she expects CUPE to continue to bargain up to the deadline.

Progressive Conservative education critic Lisa MacLeod said government should ignore what she called CUPE threats.

"I won't be taking any ultimatums from CUPE and Dalton McGuinty better not either," MacLeod said. "There's too much at stake."

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