Credits: Dave Abel/Toronto Sun/QMI
TORONTO – Union leaders representing school support staff across Ontario have approved a tentative deal reached with the province last week.
The 400-or-so Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) leaders of Ontario's school board sector voted to accept the agreement Saturday morning. It will now be sent on to the union's 55,000 members -- school staff such as teachers' assistants, early childhood educators, lunchroom supervisors, custodians, secretaries and library staff - for ratification.
Education minister Laurel Broten has given the membership a deadline of Jan. 14 to decide on the tentative deal. After that, a contract could be imposed on them.
"The bargaining process has not been easy," said CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn, who took a shot at the Liberal government by insisting this isn't how "free collective bargaining" should be.
"With the looming threats of contracts being imposed by the province, bargaining in this climate of unnecessary chaos only hinders the process," Hahn said.
It'll be challenging for the membership to complete the vote in a week, he said.
But according to Terri Preston of CUPE's co-ordinating committee, the tentative deal is better than what the province would have provided in a forced contract.
"We strove to negotiate an agreement that fits the unique working conditions of these members," said Preston, noting that school support staff earn an average of $38,000 a year. She also said CUPE's achievements in the deal include agreements around staffing levels, the protection of job security and the amount of allowable sick days.
CUPE and the province reached the tentative deal after 30 hours of talks during the days before and after Christmas, just hours before the Jan. 1 deadline.
Last Tuesday, Broten used the controversial Bill 115 to impose contracts on teachers, freezing their wages, limiting the banking of sick days and restricting their ability to strike. Teachers, in response, have vowed to continue job action that includes not volunteering for extracurricular activities such as coaching sports teams or running clubs.
While Hahn acknowledged support staff is limited in what job action they could take should they reject the deal and a contract is forced on them, he did say they would do something to voice their displeasure.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it ... (but) we'd have no option but to begin some kind of job action," he said.