Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The union representing 55,000 custodians, secretaries and education-support workers at Ontario schools is threatening to strike on Monday if a deal on a new contract is not reached, prompting some school boards to warn parents that students may have to stay home.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), whose members were already just two days into a new work-to-rule campaign, announced on Wednesday that it was providing the legally required five-day notice for a full-blown strike – but that it would also enter into new talks to reach a deal.

CUPE blamed its escalation on what it called unsafe moves by school boards, saying some had responded to the union’s work-to-rule campaign by having 10-year-olds monitor kindergarten lunches and leaving exterior school doors unlocked instead of having principals answer buzzers usually attended to by clerical staff.

Story continues below advertisement

Contract talks broke off last Sunday, and confusion persisted over when the two sides would actually meet again – although both Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce and CUPE said they wanted talks to resume as soon as possible.

Ontario government officials were taken aback by the union’s latest move. Mr. Lecce said the two sides had been close to a deal before talks broke off.

All of the province’s education unions saw their contracts end Aug. 31, amid controversy over plans by the government of Premier Doug Ford to increase class sizes and force high-school students to take online courses.

Unlike the unions representing high-school and elementary-school teachers, CUPE is in a legal strike position with a federal election under way in which the Liberals have been hoping to link Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer with Mr. Ford’s record in Ontario. In comments this week, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau cited the province’s education labour unrest.

Mr. Lecce said he felt that the process needed to be “depoliticized,” but did note the timing of the union’s move.

“I am not going to opine fundamentally on what is driving them," he said. "I mean, 48 hours [after] they initiate a labour action, we’re now at this stage. You know, they are taking action, a potential strike, on the day of the first [federal election] debate.”

Asked if CUPE was timing the strike to take advantage of the federal election, Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions − which negotiates centrally on behalf of the union’s school-board employees − said her union would rather have signed a deal before the school year began.

Story continues below advertisement

But CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn said the union “has got to use every tool” to protect student services and its members’ work: “The timing of the collective agreements happened to coincide with the timing of the federal election. That was not timing of our choosing.”

Mr. Hahn said he would be talking to teachers’ unions about potentially honouring his union’s picket lines. But leaders of the unions acting for both public, high-school and elementary teachers said their members have a legal obligation to report to work.

The impact of a strike by CUPE members will vary from one school board to the next, as not all support staff across the province are in the union. The Waterloo Catholic District School Board said that if the CUPE strike proceeds, it would close its schools because of safety concerns. The York Region District School Board, and the Thames Valley District School Board in London, Ont., encouraged families to begin making alternate child-care arrangements for next week.

The Toronto District School Board is reviewing its contingency plans, said spokeswoman Shari Schwartz-Maltz, who said that Toronto schools have been kept open during previous job actions.

If a strike were to happen and drag on, it could also affect schools scheduled to have polling stations on site for the Oct. 21 federal election, forcing voters to cross picket lines. Elections Canada says it is making contingency plans in case of a strike, but does not plan to move any polling stations. CUPE’s Mr. Hahn said his members would not "impede the democratic process to allow people to vote.”

Both sides say one of the main sticking points in negotiations is absenteeism. The previous Liberal government reduced the union’s annual sick-day provisions. But workers remain entitled to 11 sick days at full pay and 120 short-term leave days at 90 per cent of their pay.

Story continues below advertisement

Mr. Lecce said on Wednesday that sick leave is costing boards $35-million a day. His spokeswoman, Alexandra Adamo, said education workers, including teachers and other support staff, are taking, on average, 15 days.

But CUPE’s Ms. Walton says that average includes people diagnosed with cancer or undergoing surgery. She said the union is willing to discuss the issue, but wants to address what she says are the root causes: violence in schools and injuries caused by overwork in a system that she said is short-staffed and underfunded.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the authors of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies