Union bargains for 55,000 striking Ontario education support staff as it prepares to sell its fight
Ontario education workers are working to establish a grassroots committee to advance the fight to defend public education against Ford government attacks and union complicity. E-mail [email protected] to be involved.
Negotiations are underway between Ontario’s far-right Progressive Conservative government and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) over a contract for 55,000 teaching assistants, custodians and support staff. Union negotiators recently unveiled a “comprehensive package of proposals”, which they say aim to reach a “fair deal” by September and thus avert a possible strike.
The Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), which operates within CUPE, has proposed an 11% increase each year in the next contract for education workers. This equates to an increase of $3.25 per hour for babysitters, teacher aides, secretaries and early childhood educators. Thursday, the Toronto Star reported that CUPE officials plan to meet Aug. 22 to approve a strike vote, which immediately prompted howls of outrage from Ford Education Minister Stephen Lecce. Asked about the prospect of a strike, Lecce refused to rule out using back-to-work legislation to criminalize it.
Another bargaining session between the OSBCU and the government is scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, following another round of bargaining last week. CUPE has insisted on bargaining separately from teachers’ unions, which has the effect of arbitrarily dividing education workers under conditions where many of the demands they have are the same. Even if the August 22 meeting of local presidents approves a strike vote, there is no timeline for when such a vote would take place, let alone when a strike would be called.
Even if OSBCU’s offer is taken at face value, which is misguided given CUPE’s long history of betraying workers’ struggles, it falls far short of what workers really need to make ends meet. With inflation approaching double digits, an 11% per year wage increase would do nothing to reverse the 19% wage cut suffered by education workers in Ontario since 2012, a cut that has plunged many among themselves in poverty. If inflation continues to rise, as is widely expected, 11% per year would equate to a reduction in wages in real terms. And even on the conservative assumption that inflation stabilizes, education support workers would get at best a real-life wage freeze.
Reversing the decade of declining wages and securing anti-inflation pay increases would involve a salary increase of at least 40% for all support staff in the first year, followed by a cost adjustment clause of life for each subsequent year. Moreover, working conditions can only be improved if billions of dollars are invested in improving and modernizing Ontario’s dilapidated schools, whose budgets have been cut to the bone by successive governments led by the Progressive Conservatives and the Liberals, with the support of the New Democratic Party (NDP).
The financial resources to finance such investments exist in abundance, but they are monopolized by a wealthy oligarchy that has grown rich over the past two and a half years of the pandemic.
If the CUPE bureaucracy keeps control of the negotiations, it won’t even succeed in carrying out its own inadequate demands. Indeed, the main concern of CUPE, like all teachers’ unions, is to prevent a real struggle for better wages and working conditions from turning into a direct political confrontation with the Ford government. .
In 2019, the OSBCU struck an activist pose after the contracts of 55,000 support staff and more than 200,000 teachers expired on August 31. Laura Walton, who remains OSBCU president to this day, pledged to secure major gains for workers, who delivered an overwhelming strike mandate. But just hours before the strike began, CUPE torpedoed it by striking a last-minute deal with Lecce. In a blatant betrayal of rank-and-file workers, OSBCU negotiators agreed to implement Ford’s proposed 1% per year wage cap for public sector workers, despite the fact that it had not yet been promulgated.
Had the strike taken place, it could have served as a catalyst for a broad mobilization of workers against the hated Ford government, which had announced hundreds of millions in spending cuts in the previous months. Hundreds of thousands of people took part in protests throughout 2019 against cuts in funding for public education, health care and other essential social services. As it stands, CUPE’s capitulation to Ford has set the benchmark for all education unions, which agreed to the same wage cut terms after bringing forward motions to call a strike. a province-wide day.
The World Socialist Website warns education support staff and teachers that a similar betrayal is brewing behind the scenes this time around. Neither Walton nor any other senior CUPE official warned their members of the impending threat of back-to-work legislation, let alone said what they would do to resist such undemocratic methods. Indeed, CUPE, like the teachers’ unions in 2015, would serve as an enthusiastic enforcer of legislation banning worker opposition to the Ford government’s public spending austerity program and attacks on wages and working conditions. worker work.
In this respect, the OSBCU’s negotiation proposal is revealing of what it fails to mention, more than of what it contains.
As education workers prepare to begin a third school year under raging pandemic conditions, no mention of COVID-19 is found in OSBCU’s bargaining proposal. The omission of COVID protection demands for education workers is consistent with unions’ enforcement of governments’ criminal back-to-work/back-to-school policies at all levels. The unions have achieved this by sabotaging all workers’ struggles for better health and safety provisions in the workplace, declaring them illegal.
Unions are now joining mainstream media in claiming the pandemic is over, disarming the public of the dangers of COVID-19 and covering up the truth about the devastating toll reinfections have on the body.
Schools have been repeatedly shown to be hotbeds of COVID transmission. If no pandemic protection is imposed, education workers and children will be at immense risk of suffering countless COVID infections, which can have catastrophic consequences in the short, medium and long term.
CUPE’s proposals also omit any mention of the threat posed by monkeypox, which presents enormous challenges to the education system as it can be transmitted through contaminated surfaces, which can remain infectious for several days, as well as through the air. . The threat of a rapid outbreak of monkeypox in crowded places like schools and factories has already been underscored by case reports at General Motors’ Sterling Heights assembly plant in Detroit. The failure of the OSBCU to propose measures to combat this threat underscores the indifference felt by union bureaucrats towards the health and safety of rank and file members.
To advance their fight for wage increases, improved conditions, and defense of public education, education support workers must mobilize the support of teachers and broader sections of the working class for a political struggle against the Ford government, which won less than 18% of the vote. the vote in the last election and has no mandate for its austerity policies.
This requires the creation of rank-and-file committees independent of and in opposition to CUPE, OSBCU and other unions, which work tirelessly to keep workers confined to the shackles of the pro-employer “collective bargaining” system. Above all, it requires uniting the struggles of Ontario workers with those of their colleagues across Canada and abroad through the International Alliance of Rank and File Committee Workers.