Education support workers with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), as well as many of their supporters, have taken to the streets through Ontario – including Bracebridge – after contract negotiations broke down between CUPE and the province.
“We’ve been told we’re not worth the money,” says Carrie Obin, an educational assistant at Huntsville Public School.
Around 100 to 200 CUPE members, family members, friends, and other supporters will be walking up and down Manitoba St. in Bracebridge. A base has been set up in Memorial Park beside the Norwood Theatre and protestors are traveling down Manitoba towards the CUPE/Ontario Public Service Employees Union office at the corner of Manitoba and Monck St.
“We’re out here until we can negotiate a fair deal,” says Obin.
The Trillium Lakelands District School Board (TLDSB) and Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB) closed their schools in Muskoka in response to the protests.
“The CUPE members at TLDSB are vital to supporting student supervision and safety,” said Wes Hahn, TLDSB’s Director of Education Wednesday. “Without these individuals, TLDSB cannot safely operate schools for students.”
“The health and safety of our students must always be our top consideration,” added Frances Bagley, Director of Education for SMCDSB.
Bill 28, Keeping Students in Class Act, 2022, was passed Thursday by the province to impose a four-year contract on the workers. As well, legislation was passed to make it illegal for members to strike or renegotiate wages during the life of the legislated contract.
“Immediately following the proclamation of the Keeping Students in Class Act, we filed a submission to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in response to CUPE’s illegal strike action,” says Stephen Lecce, Ontario’s Minister of Education in a statement sent to the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom just before 9 AM Friday. “Proceedings started last night and will continue today.”
“It steps on the bargaining rights that unions are supposed to have,” says Kurt MacFarlane, a member of the negotiating team with CUPE Local 997. “It’s our right.”
He says on top of the province only offering a “minimal increase” in negotiations, “they’re cutting back on our sick time and benefits. It’s horrible, it’s disgusting.”
“Nothing matters more right now than getting all students back in the classroom and we will use every tool available to us to do so,” says Lecce.
“Everyone here does it because they love children,” responds MacFarlane. “They want people in the schools.”
However, he adds, they want to be fairly compensated. “Our education system, our healthcare system, it’s a mess right now,” he says.
McFarlane adds that without the government not budging on its offer, “something has to change.”