CUPE waits for word from province after tabling another offer

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BLAKE ELLIS/LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE PHOTO Michelle Lalonge-Davey, the head of CUPE Local 1238 in Lambton, is flanked by supporters, including members of the Sarnia and District Labour Council Tuesday at a protest at MPP Bob Bailey’s office on Christina Street.

Word this morning that the union representing education workers in Ontario schools presented a counter offer to the provincial government late Tuesday.

CUPE, which represents custodians, school secretaries, early childhood educators and assistants as well as library and computer technicians, is waiting to hear back on the officer.

The word comes as the union said it will go on strike Friday to protest legislation which is in the works which will force them back to work before a strike began, and imposes a contract limiting wage increases to well below the current rate of inflation and uses the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to take away collective bargaining rights.

The union representing gave notice to begin bargaining in June. By August, it had presented its proposal – the union was looking for a raise of $3.25 per hour or an 11.7 per cent increase. Officials say many members make $39,000 a year and have been hit hard by inflation. Inflation sits at about 7 per cent right now.

The province was offering 1.5 per cent.

The talks produced little and on Oct. 17, both sides agreed to meet with a private mediator. Those talks disintegrated two days later. Sunday, just days before they were asked by the mediator to return to the bargaining table Nov. 1, CUPE said workers would walk off the job Friday.

Instead of negotiating on Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Premier Doug Ford were defending the ‘Keeping Students in Class bill which it was expected to pass in a matter of days. The legislation is designed to stop any work action which would disrupt the classroom.

The bill also imposes an annual increase of 2.5 percent for those making less than $43,000 a year. The increase will be 1.5 percent for those making over $43,000. It also gives the province the power to fine workers who walk off the job $4,000 per day and the union $500,000.

Legal experts say once the legislation is passed, the union members are stuck with the deal.

Boards of education in Lambton say they will close schools Friday if CUPE walks off the job.