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Education Ontario schools support staff threatens to strike

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty scrums with the media at St. Fidelis Catholic Elementary School in Toronto on Thursday December 20, 2012 as he announces renewed funding for elementary schools across the provence to support a locked door policy while students are in class.

Chris Young/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ontario's school support workers are vowing to stage a one-day walkout, similar to their elementary teacher colleagues, if the province's Education Minister forces a collective agreement on them in the new year.

About 55,000 custodians, educational assistants, library technicians, administrative staff, early childhood educators and food service workers are angry with Bill 115, a controversial piece of legislation that dictates the terms of their contract and restricts their ability to strike. Education Minister Laurel Broten said she would act on the legislation in the new year if support staff and teachers did not reach local agreements with school boards by Dec. 31.

Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario – the union representing support staff – asked for more time to bargain locally. A government-imposed contract would trigger a political protest, he said. A one-day walkout by support staff is unlikely to close schools.

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"We're urging the Minister to work with us," Mr. Hahn told reporters at Queen's Park on Thursday. "If the Minister doesn't reconsider this arbitrary and unreasonable deadline, we will be left with no other choice but to invoke our right to political protest."

Ms. Broten said in a statement that CUPE should stay at local tables and reach agreements before Dec. 31. She didn't discuss extending the deadline.

The Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario has threatened the worst is yet to come if the contract is imposed.

Union leader Sam Hammond will reveal next steps at a news conference Friday morning, but he told The Globe and Mail earlier this week that his 76,000 members will walk out en masse after the Christmas holidays, shuttering every school across the province, if Bill 115 comes into effect. Elementary teachers have been staging rotating one-day walkouts over the past two weeks to protest against the minority Liberal government.

Ms. Broten has the power to block a strike, but the use of those powers is likely to trigger further protests.

As long as tensions remain with the Ontario government, teachers are unlikely to resume voluntary activities, such as coaching sports teams, supervising clubs and offering students extra academic support after school.

High-school union leaders have said that if Ms. Broten forces an end to the strike, teachers will continue withdrawing extracurriculars until the government's imposed contract terms expire in the fall of 2014.

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Meanwhile, the Ontario Labour Relations Board dismissed a complaint filed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation regarding issues related to the province's role in the collective bargaining process.

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