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Education workers begin work-to-rule in Ottawa area

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Hundreds of Ottawa-area school support workers are set to stop participating in extracurricular activities Monday morning as part of a work-to-rule campaign after weekend contract talks failed to reach a deal.

Bargaining between unions representing Ontario’s education workers, the government of Premier Doug Ford and school boards had been taking place throughout the weekend.

The province said late Sunday afternoon, however, that talks with the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) had broken down.

CUPE had said that while its workers were hoping to strike a deal, if the contract talks didn’t pan out, a work-to-rule campaign would begin Monday. The union says job security and wages are key issues in the negotiations.

Work-to-rule means staff will only do tasks they’re explicitly required to do. Office staff won’t supervise students, and education assistants will refuse to be left in classrooms without a teacher present.

There are about 55,000 school support staff in Ontario. They include clerical staff, school custodians and educational assistants. 

Student safety won’t be compromised, says union

“It’s become harder and harder to do more with less,” said Sherry Wallace, a former educational assistant and the president of CUPE Local 2357.

The local represents about 2,500 permanent and casual education workers in the Ottawa Catholic School Board.

“It used to be one educational assistant [for] sometimes to two three students, max. We’re now looking at, sometimes, it’s one educational assistant [for] five to seven,” Wallace said.

Even if its members begin work-to-rule Monday, they won’t compromise the safety of any students, Wallace pledged.

Sherry Wallace is a former educational assistant and the president of CUPE Local 2357, which represents about 2,500 permanent and casual education workers in the Ottawa Catholic School Board. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

‘This is very challenging’

Under work-to-rule, staff won’t take on extra activities for students — like leading choir practices, for example, or organizing sports — on their breaks or after school, Wallace said.

“We wouldn’t be staying later, volunteering and doing the extra things that we have been doing and essentially [have been] taken for granted, unfortunately,” she said.

For the Catholic board, all school support workers aside from custodial staff could begin reducing their workload Monday. That includes educational assistants, early childhood educators, sign language interpreters, developmental education staff, clerical staff, library technicians and some technical and central administrative staff.

“They are scared, and for so many reasons. Mostly because they don’t want this to look badly on them. So that’s the biggest fear,” Wallace said.

“They love, they’re very passionate about what they do. This is very challenging for them.”  

Government focused on reaching deal 

The Ford government has said it’s focused on reaching a deal that keeps kids in the classroom. 

“It is deeply disappointing that CUPE has decided to end talks this weekend, and proceed with a partial withdrawal of services, despite a limited number of outstanding items at the table,” said Minister of Education Stephen Lecce in a statement Sunday.

Lecce said the province offered proposals to address compensation, job security and funding for additional staffing.

“We remain fully committed to resuming discussions with CUPE to reach an agreement quickly to provide predictability to parents and students. On my direction, through our mediator, we have asked for additional bargaining dates to bring everyone back to the table so that we can ensure our kids remain in class,” said Lecce. 

In a statement Sunday evening, Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said the “other side pushed matters to the brink” despite having it within their power to reach “a fair deal” for students.

“Parents, teachers and communities can be assured that no CUPE member will ever do anything to make a school unsafe or put any student at any risk,” Walton said. “As always, CUPE members will exercise their professional judgment when it comes to the health and safety of students.”

French boards, English Catholic board affected

For the French public school board in Ottawa, the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario, custodial and clerical staff, library technicians and IT employees would be working to rule. The support staff for students and teachers inside the classroom are under a different union and wouldn’t be working to rule.

For the French Catholic school board, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, only custodial staff would be working to rule.

The Catholic board’s other high schools, administrative offices, Académie catholique Notre-Dame, Éducation Permanente, and the Centre professionnel et technique Minto will not be affected by a work-to-rule campaign.

No support workers with the Ottawa Carleton District School Board are unionized under CUPE.

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan

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OTTAWA — More than one million Canadians lost their jobs in the month of March, Statistics Canada is reporting. The unemployment rate has also climbed to 7.8 per cent, up from 2.2 percentage points since February.

Canada’s national statistics agency released its monthly Labour Force Survey on Thursday, using March 15 to 21 as the sample week – a time when the government began enforcing strict guidelines around social gatherings and called on non-essential businesses to close up shop.

The first snapshot of job loss since COVID-19 began taking a toll on the Canadian economy shows 1.1 million out of work since the prior sample period and a consequent decrease in the employment rate – the lowest since April 1997. The most job losses occurred in the private sector and among people aged 15-24.

The number of people who were unemployed increased by 413,000, resulting in the largest one-month increase in Canada’s unemployment rate on record and takes the economy back to a state last seen in October, 2010.

“Almost all of the increase in unemployment was due to temporary layoffs, meaning that workers expected to return to their job within six months,” reads the findings.

The agency included three new indicators, on top of the usual criteria, to better reflect the impact of COVID-19 on employment across the country.

The survey, for example, excludes the more commonly observed reasons for absent workers — such as vacation, weather, parental leave or a strike or lockout — to better isolate the pandemic’s effect.

They looked at: people who are employed but were out of a job during the reference week, people who are employed but worked less than half their usual hours, and people who are unemployed but would like a job.

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Employee at Ottawa’s Amazon Fulfillment Centre tests positive for COVID-19

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OTTAWA — An employee who works at Amazon’s fulfillment centre on Boundary Road in Ottawa’s east-end has tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon says it learned on April 3 that an associate tested positive for novel coronavirus and is currently in isolation. The employee last worked at the fulfillment centre on March 19.

Two employees told CTV News Ottawa that management informed all employees about the positive test in a text message over the weekend.

In a statement to CTV News Ottawa, Amazon spokesperson Jen Crowcroft wrote “we are supporting the individual who is recovering. We are following guidelines from health officials and medical experts, and are taking extreme measures to ensure the safety of employees at our site.”

The statement also says that Amazon has taken steps to further protect their employees.

“We have also implemented proactive measures at our facilities to protect employees including increased cleaning at all facilities, maintaining social distance in the FC.”

CTV News Ottawa asked Amazon about the timeline between when the company found out about the positive COVID-19 case and when employees were notified.

In a separate email to CTV News Ottawa, Crowcroft said “all associates of our Boundary Road fulfillment centre in Ottawa were notified within 24 hours of learning of the positive COVID-19 case.”

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Ottawa facing silent spring as festivals, events cancelled

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This is shaping up to be Ottawa’s silent spring — and summer’s sounding pretty bleak, too — as more and more concerts, festivals and other annual events are cancelled in the wake of measures meant to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The province has already banned gatherings of more than five people, and on Monday officials announced city parks, facilities and services will remain shut down until the end of June, nor will any event permits be issued until at least that time.

“This leaves us with no choice but to cancel the festival this year,” Ottawa Jazz Festival artistic director Petr Cancura confirmed Monday.

This was to be the festival’s 40th anniversary, and organizers announced the lineup for the June 19-July 1 event the day after Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19. 

The Toronto and Montreal jazz festivals had already pulled the plug because of similar restrictions in their cities, so Cancura said the writing was on the wall.

“We have a few contingency plans to keep connecting with our audience and working with our artists,” Cancura said.

People holding tickets to the 2020 festival can ask for a refund or exchange for a 2021 pass.

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