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Here's what you need to know about education workers' work-to-rule campaign

Many duties performed by clerical staff, educational assistants, early childhood educators, library and information technology workers, child and youth workers, food service staff, and student supervisors are being withheld
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School life is going to be different today as CUPE education support workers and caretaking and maintenance staff within the York public and Catholic school boards begin a work-to-rule campaign.

That means certain services provided by those workers will be stopped, including handling cash, sweeping hallways, cutting grass and volunteering for unpaid activities.

Many other duties usually performed by clerical staff, educational assistants, early childhood educators, library and information technology workers, child and youth workers, food service staff, and student supervisors will also come to an end.

For example, clerical staff have been instructed not to update a school's website, or its social media pages, or administer medication.

Early childhood educators cannot prepare materials of any kind for class outside of paid time, and will not allow class to proceed without a teacher present during instructional time.

The full list of services affected at local public schools as part of the phase-one job action can be found here.

In a message to parents posted at the York public board’s website, officials stated student safety is a top priority during this period of labour sanctions.

“We recognize this situation is disappointing,” officials stated. “Please be assured we will continue to make your child’s safety our first priority.” 

Elementary school office staff, for example, will not be operating the front-door buzzer, which may cause delays in entering school buildings. But the board said it will continue to operate the safe welcome program.

As well, community use permits at all schools are cancelled as of today and will remain so during the job action.

The York public board also announced today that elementary international and Indigenous languages classes for senior kindergarten to Grade 8 students are cancelled effective Tuesday, Oct. 1, until further notice. However, credit international languages classes for students in grades 9 to 12 will continue as scheduled.

York Catholic board officials have also set up a website to keep families informed on job action at its schools now underway. 

"The safety and well being of YCDSB students is of paramount importance to the board and its staff, and we have put measures in place to ensure this continues during the work-to-rule sanctions," the message said.

"The board wishes to reassure parents, students and our communities that every effort will be made to ensure that all elementary and secondary schools, child care centres, before and after-school programs, and nutrition/lunch programs will continue as long as it is safe to do so. School bus transportation for eligible students will also continue."

Bargaining talks broke off Sept. 29 between the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, Ontario government and Council of Trustees’ Associations, leaving CUPE’s 55,000 members without a new central collective agreement.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a Sept. 29 statement “it is deeply disappointing that CUPE has decided to end talks this weekend, and proceed with a partial withdrawal of services, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table”.

“The Crown and the employers tabled a reasonable offer and expanded our offer through the negotiations with one interest in mind: landing a deal that keeps our kids in class,” Lecce said. “We have offered proposals to address compensation, job security and funding for additional staffing.”

A key issue that remains, Lecce said, is resolving “rising absenteeism rates, and the impact that has on students and schools”.

The Ontario Public School Boards' Association also issued a statement yesterday that expressed its concerns about current levels of absenteeism and the impact on students.

“CUPE’s sick leave plan provides access to 131 days of sick/short term disability leave annually — 11 of these are payable at 100 per cent of wages and 120 days paid at 90 per cent of wages,” the statement reads. “This plan has driven a significant and continuous rise in absenteeism rates. These levels of absenteeism negatively impact school board budgets, but more importantly, the support provided to our students.”

“We are not proposing a reduction in the number of days (131), but only a modest alteration to the percentage of wages paid in the short-term disability leave when employees are absent from work. To date, CUPE have refused to agree to any changes to the plan.”

Ontario School Board Council of Unions president Laura Walton has said it will not back down from attempts to get a fairer deal for its members and reverse the education cuts imposed by the provincial government.

Here in York Region, CUPE Local 1734 president Todd Canning told NewmarketToday that wide-ranging cuts to education funding are having a “trickle-down effect” on his members, which include early childhood educators in full-day kindergarten classes, educational assistants, clerical and administrative staff, and technical workers in all 300 buildings within York's public board.  

“The cuts are affecting student learning and, from the perspective of where most of our members work in the special-needs area, the cuts are manifesting down to our most vulnerable students,” Canning said. “But we’re getting compressed and the workload is an issue because our members are being asked to work with more students and when these students have needs, it becomes more difficult. That’s a concern for us, and we want the greater community to understand."

For example, within Local 1734’s 3,200-person membership, there were more than 2,000 active incident injury reports on the books by the beginning of June 2018. 

“The injuries in our membership have never been so high in the history of our local,” Canning said. “We’re seeing broken bones, and head injuries are huge with us right now, because kids are winging stuff around, and our members are getting struck and hit.”

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Kim Champion

About the Author: Kim Champion

Kim Champion is a veteran journalist and editor who covers Newmarket and issues that impact York Region.
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