As bargaining goes down to the wire with unionized school support workers, internal Progressive Conservative polling shows three-quarters of Ontarians want students in classrooms.
According to a new Campaign Research survey conducted for the Tories and obtained by the Star, people would blame the government and the union equally if schools are shut down Monday.
One-third — 33 per cent — blamed the Tories while 31 per cent blamed the Canadian Union of Public Employees and 30 per cent said both sides are to blame. Six per cent didn’t know.
But 77 per cent agree it is “important” that students remain in schools without any further disruptions while only 16 per cent say that is not important and seven per cent didn’t know.
Campaign Research polled 1,482 people across Ontario on Thursday and Friday using Maru/Blue’s online panel. It is an opt-in survey, but for comparison purposes, a random sample of this size would have a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The poll was commissioned by the PC caucus and given to the Star by a Tory who was not authorized to share it.
Some 58 per cent of respondents agree that the government’s wage offer of a 15.2 per cent raise over four years was fair.
Fewer than one-third — 29 per cent — disagree and 13 per cent didn’t know.
CUPE has said that salary hike is equivalent to a $1 an hour annual raise over the next four years.
Bargaining continues between the government and CUPE as a 5 p.m. Sunday deadline looms to let parents know if workers will strike.
The mediated talks, being held at a downtown Toronto hotel, are a last-ditch effort to land a deal before 55,000 custodians, early childhood educators, educational assistants and others in many school boards are set to walk off the job Monday.
Negotiations resumed first thing Saturday.
“We remain hard at work doing everything we can to get the best deal for students, families, and front-line education workers,” CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions said in a statement.
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“Education workers’ central bargaining committee is still at the table and expects to be here well into the evening … while we hope a strike won’t be necessary, we’re committed to giving parents as much notice as possible of any job action.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Saturday that “for the sake of keeping kids in the classroom, we have repeatedly improved our offer to CUPE, including an additional $335 million pay hike for education workers alone.”
He said that is “on top of funding the hiring of nearly 7,000 more workers and protecting one of the best pensions, benefits and paid sick leave programs in the country.”
Lecce again called on the union “to do the same and put kids first by cancelling their second strike in two weeks. After years of difficulty, like all parents across this province, we know that students deserve to be in class on Monday.”
On Saturday, CUPE held a number of rallies, including at Yonge-Dundas Square as well as Premier Doug Ford’s constituency office in Etobicoke, which the bargaining committee said “buoyed” them.
On Friday, the government announced that in the event of a strike, it would cover the cost of daycare for health- and child-care workers so they can remain on the job.
CUPE bargaining unit president Laura Walton said beyond wages the union is seeking more staff including educational assistants — who aid in classrooms, often special needs students — as well as early childhood educators and custodians.
If a strike goes ahead, schools have been told to stay open if they can, and to offer live online learning if they cannot.
Earlier this month, CUPE held a two-day strike that ended after Ford agreed to climb down from his controversial Bill 28, that pre-emptively attempted to ban job action and imposed a four-year contract, using the Charter’s “notwithstanding clause.”
That prompted a nation-wide outcry from labour leaders.
The Campaign Research poll showed that most Ontarians — 53 per cent — opposed Ford’s law while 40 per cent supported and eight per cent didn’t know.
Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie
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