After nearly six months of negotiations, the Ontario government and the Canadian Union of Public Employees found common ground and have ratified their new agreement to keep education workers and children in the classroom.

The new deal came after the two parties reached a tentative deal on November 20 to avoid CUPE’s second protest, with members voting 73 per cent in favour of the deal by December 5.

“I think that the robust turnout of folks voting is a significant element to this,” said Kenora – Rainy River MPP, Minister of Indigenous Affairs and Minister of Northern Development, Greg Rickford, in an interview with the Q Morning Show on December 6.

“It says that we reached an agreement that people can live with over the next four years, and that we have a shared priority of keeping kids in school after a couple of difficult years with COVID-19. People can get back to the idea that life can be somewhat normal,” he adds.

The deal includes a $1 per hour raise for lowest-paid education workers each year over the next four years, which adds up to 3.9 per cent annually. The union also secured back pay for the two days that workers protested in early November.

“Since negotiations began, we have been guided by the belief that kids should be in class,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce, after the announcement on December 5. “We are so pleased we’ve been able to reach an agreement that has been overwhelmingly ratified by the members that keeps kids in classrooms and preserves the learning experience, like clubs and extracurriculars.”

CUPE represents over 50,000 education workers, such as administration, custodians, maintenance staff and more. And as Rickford notes, The next set of negotiations for Ontario include four major teachers’ unions, whose contracts all expired on August 31, 2022.

“Now we can focus on working with our teachers and bringing those agreements to the forefront and getting through those," adds Rickford. "They’re extraordinary people, who do extraordinary work. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to move past without any interruptions to kids being in school.”

Ontario and CUPE’s negotiations for a new contract began over the summer after Ontario unveiled a new 4-year plan for education workers, which called for 2 per cent wage increases for staff earning under $40,000 and increases of 1.25 per cent for everyone else.

In response, CUPE called for wage increases of nearly 12 per cent for all workers – with increases in overtime pay, additional education assistants and custodians, as well as increased staffing levels in libraries, offices and lunchrooms.

Negotiations continued over the fall and winter with strike action in early November and the threat of a second protest near the end of the month after Ontario introduced but later repealed Bill 28, which would have made strike action illegal with fines of up to $4,000.