Wednesday, November 03, 1999

CUPE Strike in Toronto Not Necessary

At 6:30 A.M. on Sunday, February 27, 1999, CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees) "Local 4400, who represent 14,000 support staff" (Harding "Toronto school staff back strike.") went on a legal strike. The strike closed twenty-one schools and put the Toronto public school system into chaos. The Toronto Public School Board was forced to close the twenty-one schools because they require stationary engineers or chief caretakers, to operate them. These caretakers and engineers are members of the CUPE that went on strike. Even the schools that were open were thrown into disarray as garbage piled up, toilets overflowed, and "the board of health received close to 300 inquiries" (Talaga "Close schools, principals urge") by both concerned parents and students.

The strike left, --as most strikes in the education system do--the students caught in the middle. The issues in this strike, according to C.U.P.E, were "wages, benefits, job security, and contracting out" (Lu and Talaga "We'll close 20 more Toronto Schools, union chief vows"). These issues, ironically, were the same issues for the O.S.S.T.F. (Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation) in the Toronto teachers' strike of September 1998. Both the teachers' federation and C.U.P.E. blame the new provincial funding formula for causing the strikes. However, Board Chair Gayle Nyberg disagrees. The Board, Nyberg said in a Toronto Star Article, "has the ability to negotiate a far deal [because] the money is there" (Lu and Talaga "Frustration mounts over school strike"). C.U.P.E. countered, according to a board report tabled Jan. 6, 1999, that "840 custodial and maintenance jobs 276 school support staff and 1,050 central administration positions" (Harding "Toronto school staff back strike") faced elimination due to the new provincial funding formula handed down in September.

The funding model, however, is not to blame for the labour strife in Toronto. The Toronto School Board is the one that people should be pointing their fingers at. The board is spending money on "frills" such as free lunch programs and free before and after school programs instead of putting the money back into budgeting for building larger schools. This lack of planning has caused the Toronto School Board into this situation. However, if the Toronto School Board had planned properly many of the students the board now housed in portables could easily have been moved into these new schools. Also, the school board could have closed many of the inefficient smaller downtown schools. By closing many of the inefficient schools the Toronto School Board could have reduced their operational costs significantly and had the necessary money to give C.U.P.E. a fair contract deal.

What the school board now needs to do is to start reducing costs by laying off administrative staff and cutting the 'frills' (e.g. free lunch programs, etc.) that the board has and look at creating greater efficiencies within the services that they provide. This is just what occurred at other boards when the province was cut the board's transfer payments. For example, The York Region Board of Education and the York Region Roman Catholic Separate School Board merged their purchasing departments, school bus routes, courier services and some administrative services. This not only created greater efficiencies but also saved both school boards enormous amounts of money. This money saved now can be used in other areas that are desperate for funding. All the Toronto School Board has to do is study the actions of other school boards in order to see how they can reduce their own operating costs and create greater efficiencies within the board similar their counterparts in York Region.

Therefore, it is not the new provincial funding formula that is to blame, it is the Toronto School Board's mismanagement of funds that is to blame. However, C.U.P.E. is not entirely innocent in this situation because they are the cause of the labour strife. The Province of Ontario needs to ensure that this type of labour strife does not affect the classroom. This can be done if the province passes legislation that makes both teachers and operational workers within the school system an essential service. By declaring both unions an essential service, this would prevent the teachers' union and C.U.P.E. from disrupting the lives of students. Also, the province needs to move the negotiating portion of the education system to the provincial level. It is currently the Ministry of Education that decides which board receives what amount of funding to the school boards. The school boards, however, must utilize that money to the best of their ability to negotiate with the unions and operate the schools. By banning and moving the negotiations to the provincial level, the Ministry of Education can ensure that the unions are treated fairly because the ministry currently controls the funding for education and not the school boards. These changes would ensure that our children would not be forced into the middle of another labour strike.


Harding, Mark. "Toronto school staff back strike." The Toronto Star 18 Jan. 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available:

Ho, Tanya. "Students could still return to messy schools." The Toronto Star 14 March 1999. On-line. Internet. 14 March 1999. Available: 

Lee-Shanok, Philip. "Students' year may go overtime." The Toronto Sun 14 March, 1999. On-line. Internet. 14 March 1999. Available:

Lu, Vanessa. "'Flying squad' hunts cleaners." The Toronto Star 5 March 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available:

Lu, Vanessa, and Tanya Talaga. "Frustration mounts over school strike." The Toronto Star 4 March 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available:

Lu, Vanessa, and Tanya Talaga. "We'll close 20 more Toronto schools, union chief vows." The Toronto Star 6 March 1999. On-line. Internet.7 March 1999. Available:

Talaga, Tanya. "Close schools, principals urge." The Toronto Star 12 March 1999. Online. Internet. 14 March 1999. Available: 

Talaga, Tanya. "Parents show support for striking school staff." The Toronto Star. 5 March 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available:

Talaga, Tanya. "Toronto schools strike looming." The Toronto Star 4 Feb. 1999. On-line. Internet. 7 March 1999. Available:

 Zelkovich, Chris. "It was a most striking week." The Toronto Star 14 March 1999. Online. Internet. Available:

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