TORONTO — Ontario’s Liberal government has reached a tentative two-year contract extension deal with school support staff, which would ensure a measure of labour peace through the next election.
The Ministry of Education announced Saturday evening that it had reached a tentative agreement with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 55,000 support staff.
The current contracts with CUPE and the teachers’ unions are set to expire in August, so if ratified, CUPE’s deal would last until August 2019 — well after the June 2018 election.
The government had also been in discussions with some of the teachers’ unions about contract extensions, but did not confirm Saturday whether all or some of those were still ongoing.
The last round of negotiations were contentious, with support staff and elementary teachers staging work-to-rule campaigns and the government threatening to dock their pay.
It was also an unusually long round of bargaining talks due to new legislation that for the first time mandated that unions reach central deals with the government, then local deals with each school board across the province.
In addition to the job action, the government also took heat for the costs incurred during the lengthy bargaining. Three unions were promised $2.5 million to cover their negotiation costs.
That was in addition to more than $1 million the government gave unions in previous rounds of bargaining because of preparations for the new legislation, $4.6 million the government gave to school boards and more than $1 million Ontario spent on its own negotiation costs.
The government boasted that the deals were net zero, with a total of $402 million in salary increases over the nine central deals offset by savings from previously banked sick day payouts, cancelling some deferred spending, delaying salary grid bumps and other measures.
But the deals also included setting up new benefit trusts for teachers and education workers at a cost of an extra $300 million.
The government has not clarified how the current deal’s salary increases — a one-per-cent lump sum payment and a one-per-cent raise in 2016, with a further 0.5 per cent around January 2017 — would carry through an additional two years.
Contract extension talks arose as part of discussions with education-sector unions over a court ruling that said the government violated their collective bargaining rights.
Legislation in 2012, known as Bill 115, imposed contracts on teachers that froze some of their wages and limited their ability to strike, so five unions took the government to court. The judge sided with them, but left the question of a remedy up to the government and unions to decide.