Education workers will not accept reported ‘improved offer’ from Ford: CUPE

Ontario and CUPE have re-started bargaining for 55,000 education support staff. Since promising to scrap a contract his government imposed on staff, Premier Doug Ford has been striking a new tone - but he has a warning for teachers' unions.

Education workers may be back on the job after talks between their union and the province resumed Tuesday, but it appears the two sides are still far apart on some key issues.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing more than 50,000 education support staff, say they will not accept a ‘two-tier offer’ from the province — a two-tier wage increase was reported to be part of the latest offer from the Ford government.

“We have been clear, a deal will be made which is a substantial flat rate increase,” reads a statement from the bargaining committee released on Wednesday. “Such an offer would fall short of what you as workers need to ratify a deal.”

A government source tells CityNews the latest offer presented a 3.5 per cent annual increase for the lowest paid workers and a closer to 2 per cent increase for higher paid workers. Those numbers are up from 2.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent as part of the four-year deal imposed by the province’s soon-to-be repealed back-to-work legislation.

CUPE says they have not received an offer with those numbers but if they did they would not recommend it to their members. The premier’s office has disputed the specific numbers of the latest offer.

“The mediator has asked me not to talk about it,” Doug Ford said Wednesday when asked about the union indicating it would not accept the deal.

Sources confirmed the province is trying to “tone down the temperature” with talks resuming following the brief job action.

Ford appeared to strike a more agreeable tone on Tuesday saying he didn’t “want to fight,” but sounded more adversarial a day later, apparently unwilling to move away from the two-tiered structure of his government’s offer.

“We’re going to focus on the low paid workers, that’s our goal,” he said. “I’ll be fair, hopefully (the union) will be fair as well.”

The premier has claimed any agreement would have an impact on the four major teachers’ contracts also in bargaining, and increases could lead to “tens of billions of dollars” of increases to the teachers, and he needs to watch Ontario’s bottom line.

The union says it stands ready to strike again if talks don’t go in the direction they like, but they would need to give five-days notice.

Later Wednesday night, CUPE said it would limit comments to the media during the negotiations, and asked the province to follow suit.

“We will be limiting our comments to the media while in mediation to better direct our efforts to reaching a freely negotiated agreement,” a CUPE spokesperson said in a statement.

“We respectfully call on the Ford government to make the same commitment, refrain from making comments that distract from negotiations, and spend the time working to get a deal done for student success and good jobs.”

Union, opposition call on Ford to repeal Bill 28 right away

The education workers, including education assistants, librarians and custodians, returned to work on Tuesday, a day after the union called off their job action in response to the province offering to repeal its legislation banning strikes and imposing a four-year contract on them.

The province says legislation to repeal Bill 28 will be tabled on Nov. 14. The union and the NDP opposition have called on Ford to recall the legislature to repeal the legislation right away.

“We’re keeping our word, we’re going to do it,” Ford said. “Maybe they should put a little water in their wine, like I did.”

CUPE responded shortly after the premier spoke saying they need the bill repealed and are focused on striking a good deal for workers, students and families.

“Don’t take advantage of our good nature. We need Bill 28 repealed. Why the delay?” reads a Tweet from the union.

The province controversially included the notwithstanding clause in its legislation, saying it intended to use the clause to guard against constitutional challenges.

The job action forced most Ontario schools to pivot to virtual learning on Friday and Monday. School boards across the GTA confirmed in-person learning would resume on Tuesday.

On Wednesday night, CUPE said the unlawful strike application has been withdrawn by the government, meaning members won’t face fines for the two days of walkouts.

With files from Cynthia Mulligan and Richard Southern

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