Job action looming at CK schools

Lambton Kent District School Board office on Wellington St. in Sarnia. ( File Photo by Briana Carnegie)

Education workers and support staff at schools across Chatham-Kent will be voting this weekend to determine if they will go on strike later this month.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have asked the conciliation officer to file a “no-board report”, which puts school support staff across Ontario in a legal strike position in the week of September 23.

Local secretaries, education assistants, early childhood educators, custodians, maintenance workers, IT employees, and librarians could also opt for other job action such as work to rule.

The union is trying to bargain a collective agreement and said the province seems unwilling to work with them to reach an agreement that will give Ontario students a well supported, well rounded, publicly funded and publicly delivered education.

“They will not consider proposals that will ensure a fairer deal for CUPE education workers, so that we can deliver high-quality services,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.

John Howitt, the director of education at the Lambton Kent District School Board, is taking a cautious approach by saying it’s premature to talk about school contingency plans in case of a strike. Howitt said a strike may not happen but if it does, student safety and school security will be top priorities.

“Some planning needs to be put in place and those plans would vary depending on any job actions,” Howitt said.

Howitt said it’s business as usual at the board over the next two weeks and doesn’t want to jump to conclusions about the outcome.

“We’re very optimistic that negotiations will go well. A strike vote isn’t always a comment on the negotiations themselves but it is a necessary step,” he added.

Deb Crawford, the director of education at the St. Clair Catholic District School Board, is hopeful that agreements will be reached.

“St. Clair Catholic is preparing contingencies that will ensure the safety and security of students and school operations in the event of a withdrawal of services,” said Crawford.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce issued a statement on Friday in response to CUPE’s request for a “no board” report.

“As the school year begins, it is important that parents, students and educators know that I remain on their side, committed to keeping kids in the classroom,” he said. “I am disappointed that CUPE has decided to take this action.”

The minister believes the differences at the bargaining table can be resolved so that students can remain in class. He added that his team is ready to continue meeting to negotiate a deal that puts students first and provides the predictability parents deserve.

The strike vote in Chatham-Kent takes place Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Lambton Kent Composite School, 231 St. George St. N in Dresden. Results will be announced on September 17.