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OPSEU educational workers want a deal, but will strike to protect kids and communities

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TORONTO – As thousands of OPSEU members and affiliates working as educational support staff in elementary, secondary, and adult-learning schools head back to the bargaining table today, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas is vowing that they’ll do what is necessary to protect the students they serve.

“Our members didn’t choose their career to get rich – they chose it because they care deeply and passionately about helping students,” said Thomas, whose members enter their first day of bargaining as part of the Ontario Council of Educational Workers (OCEW) central table. “They help Ontario’s students every day in the classroom, and at the bargaining table by standing up for quality public education.

“Frontline educational workers are the experts in education. Free and fair collective bargaining gives them a real voice and ensures that their expertise is heard and honoured, whether it’s about class sizes, violence in the classroom, or decent wages and working conditions.”

Thomas said the provincial government is attempting to undermine free and fair collective bargaining with its unconstitutional Bill 124, the as-yet unpassed legislation that would cut public service wages by capping annual increases at just one per cent, which will likely be below inflation.

“Like most frontline public service workers, the last thing our members want to do is go on strike or endure a lock-out,” said Thomas. “What we want is simple: a fair deal that puts students ahead of irresponsible slashing of services.

“Unfortunately, the provincial and federal Conservatives seem bent on weakening our public school system and rewarding the owners of private schools. We might find ourselves forced to fight with everything we’ve got, and that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

OPSEU First Vice-President / Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida says that a quick look at the numbers makes it clear as day that the Conservatives are being driven by ideology, not reality.

“Study after study shows that private sector workers are enjoying annual raises of two per cent or more,” said Almeida. “How can Mr. Ford – who has publicly boasted and taken credit for these wage increases – apply different logic to public sector workers and mandate them to accept half or less than that?

“Our members aren’t bargaining for CEO-sized raises. They just want to keep up with inflation so they can pay their bills and go to work free to concentrate on what matters most: giving students the kind of quality public education they deserve.”

“Ford is trying to lie low as the federal election heats up,” said Thomas. “But, if necessary we are ready to withdraw our services and, if the premier decides on draconian back-to-work legislation, force him to reconvene his government early, putting his agenda and record squarely back on the public radar.  All we are asking for is a fair deal for workers, students and their parents.”

For more information:

OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931