Ontario’s education workers have ratified a tentative agreement that narrowly avoided a strike last month, their union said Monday.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees’ bargaining team said 79 per cent of its 55,000 members voted in favour of the new deal.
Under the agreement, the workers will get a one per cent wage increase each year over the life of the three-year deal. The agreement also restores $58.3 million in government funding used largely for educational assistants working with students with special needs.
Laura Walton, the head of CUPE’s bargaining unit, acknowledged the deal was not passed unanimously, adding she expected the approval rate to be lower.
“We need to appreciate we have the lowest paid people in the education system and it’s not keeping up with inflation,” she told a news conference on Monday.
Walton said the deal include a “me too” clause that ensures the education workers’ wage increases will match those of the province’s teachers, who are currently negotiating with the province.
“We’re hoping our colleagues at other bargaining tables can take up the fight on wages,” she said.
Had the workers — including custodians, early childhood educators and clerical staff — gone on strike, two dozen school boards said they would have had to close their doors.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce on Monday congratulated both sides on the deal’s ratification.
“Our singular aim through this process was to keep students in class and provide predictability and certainty to parents, students, and educators,” he said in a statement.
“We value education workers who work hard to foster a safe and positive learning environment for students all across the province.”
Walton said negotiating now moves to 109 local bargaining units across the province that will focus on issues such as pay equity and scheduling.
“It is important that as we move forward we do not lose sight of the pressing issues that still face our students, our members and our schools,” Walton said.
“Issues such as violence in our schools — including violence against our members — protection of the kindergarten program and investing in our public school buildings.”
Meantime, all three unions representing teachers are negotiating new deals with the provincial government.
Elementary teachers have voted 98 per cent in favour of a strike, though the union wouldn’t lay out a timeline for when it could happen.
Unions representing secondary and Catholic school teachers are also holding strike votes.