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Union seeks 11.7% raise for education workers in proposal

CUPE, province hammering out new collective agreement
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School buses are seen in a lot in Ottawa on April 18, 2022. A union representing Ontario education workers is asking the province for annual wage increases of $3.25 per hour -- or 11.7 per cent -- as the two sides hash out a new collective agreement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

TORONTO — A union representing Ontario education workers has asked the province for annual wage increases of 11.7 per cent – or $3.25 per hour – as the two sides hash out a new collective agreement.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees – which represents 55,000 workers including early childhood educators, school administration workers, bus drivers and custodians – shared a summary of bargaining proposals it submitted Tuesday as negotiations continue ahead of existing contracts expiring at the end of this month.

The union argued workers' wages have been restricted over the last decade and inflation is expected to rise further. Public sector workers have had wage increases limited to one per cent annually in recent years due to a controversial government bill.

CUPE said an average wage for permanent employees is currently $27.87, and the president of its Ontario School Boards Council of Unions said moves limiting education funding by the government and school boards have "put many education workers on the brink of poverty."

"Students and workers both deserve better than the crumbs this government throws our way, so my coworkers and I are willing to fight for what students need in the classroom and what we need to do our jobs even better," Laura Walton said in a written statement.

Other education unions in the process of negotiating new contracts with the provincial government have also said they intend to argue for bigger raises to keep up with the skyrocketing cost of living.

Statistics Canada said the annual inflation rate in June was 8.1 per cent, the largest increase since 1983.

The president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation told The Canadian Press last month that her union is looking for a wage increase that will keep up with inflation and not be restricted by legislation.

Premier Doug Ford has said teachers will get a raise larger than one per cent in their new contracts but hasn't set an exact figure.

Other bargaining proposals from CUPE include asks for minimum weekly hours of work for full-time staff and minimum standards on vacation and leaves of absence, as well as funding to extend benefits to more workers. 

A spokeswoman for Education Minister Stephen Lecce did not comment on CUPE's proposed wage increase, but said the government is "intent" on reaching a deal that ensures students are in class when school is scheduled to start, with extracurriculars included.

"Students deserve stability and that’s what we’re focused on – not only so they can catch up after two years of pandemic disruptions, but so they can learn the skills they need to succeed both inside and outside the classroom," Grace Lee said in a written statement.

Lecce and Ford have both stressed in recent weeks they do not want labour disruptions to affect extracurriculars like sports and clubs, something that happened during the last bargaining phase three years ago when teachers took work-to-rule action.

Teachers' unions have noted, in response, that extracurriculars are voluntary for teachers to offer.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 2, 2022. 

Holly McKenzie-Sutter, The Canadian Press