Sault news: Education union prepares for negotiations

It’s not just teachers that make up the staff at a school is the message Laura Walton is trying to send to the Ministry of Education.

Walton is the president of the Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU) representing 55,000 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) education workers.

On Friday, Walton and the rest of OSBCU will restart negotiations with the province and the Council of Trustees’ Association.

This time, she said they have a conciliation officer to help find middle ground.

“The first thing that we can get is some more dates, because the fact of the matter remains that in order to get a collective agreement, you have to be in front of each other talking,” Walton said.

“And we only have seven dates between now and the end of October. That is not adequate for us to make sure we have a real good collective agreement that works for students, families, and workers.”

The average salary for those education workers is $39,000 and the union is asking for an hourly raise of $3.25.

Mike Galipeau is a custodian for the Algoma District School Board and a vice-president for the area’s OSBCU.

“Inflation was around 20 per cent in the last decade,” said Galipeau.

“We’ve only received eight per cent in wage increases, so we’ve actually lost 12 per cent of our wages. We’re asking for — the way we’re putting it — is a toonie, a loonie, and a quarter.”

He said low wages are having an impact on both retention and hiring.

“Even locally, in Sault Ste Marie, we’re always hiring,” said Galipeau.

“And replacement workers are really hard to come by right now, and that makes it harder for the regular staff.”

In response, Education Minister Steven Lecce sent this statement:

“Students need and deserve to have a full, enjoyable, and uninterrupted school year. While CUPE is taking steps towards a strike, it is more important than ever for CUPE and other teacher unions to commit to staying in school with students until June, which is critical to student physical and mental health.”

Walton said they just want fair compensation.

“We just saw yesterday the most recent numbers of settlements that are coming out, they’re much higher than what the minister has offered us,” she said.