Only one month into the 2022-2023 school year, the Ontario government and the union representing front-line education workers are facing upcoming strike action.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees says on Monday, over 45,000 education staff – including custodians, early childhood educators, administrators and more – voted 96.5 per cent in favour of strike action.

“Education workers are standing up and saying in one unified voice: we demand better,” said Laura Walton, educational assistant and president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions. “Workers need a long-overdue raise and students deserve more staff to guarantee services.”

CUPE has been calling for annual wage increases of nearly 12 per cent for all workers, while Ontario has countered with two per cent raises for workers making under $40,000 and raises of 1.25 per cent for everyone else.

The union says on average, education workers are only paid $39,000 per year, 60 per cent of staff are laid off each summer, and over 50 per cent work at least one additional job to make ends meet.

CUPE is also bargaining for more education assistants in kindergarten classrooms, more library support staff and custodians, an increase in overtime pay and increased staffing levels in school offices and lunchrooms.

Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce, meanwhile, is arguing that Ontario’s offer is more than fair.

“As CUPE moves ahead towards a strike that hurts kids and disrupts families — leaving behind a reasonable offer that also protects the most generous benefits and pension plan in the country — we will continue to remain at the table to make sure kids stay in class without interruption right through to June.”

CUPE is calling for union representatives and the provincial government to resume negotiations today. They’re also set to sit down together again on October 17 and 18.

Of note, even though the strike vote overwhelmingly passed earlier this week – a strike won’t happen quite yet.

CUPE must file for a ‘no board’ report, indicating a deal cannot be reached. Once that is issued, a 17-day countdown begins – when it ends, CUPE will be in legal position to strike. If they choose to strike, they will have to issue five days’ notice to school boards and families.

The last time this group of education workers threatened strike action was in 2019 – which included a partial withdrawal of cleaning services. A five-day province-wide strike action notice was issued, but a last-minute deal was reached shortly afterwards.