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Support staff at Ottawa Catholic, French boards begin work-to-rule Monday




Support staff at the Ottawa Catholic School Board and Ottawa’s two French-language boards have joined colleagues across the province in working to rule.

The job action Monday morning by the 55,000 members of CUPE came after bargaining with school boards and the province broke down Sunday.

For students and parents, the most immediate consequence will be that office staff won’t operate front-door buzzers. But CUPE members have been told to stop performing a wide variety of tasks, from sweeping hallways to inputting or copying progress and report cards.

The Upper Canada District School Board announced the cancellation of field trips, sporting events and after-school extra-curricular activities “to ensure the safety and proper supervision of students.”

The work-to-rule does not affect Ottawa’s largest school board because support staff at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are represented by another union.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce released a statement Sunday saying he was disappointed that CUPE ended talks despite a “limited number of outstanding items at the table.”

The province and school boards made a reasonable offer, he said, including “proposals to address compensation, job security and funding for additional staffing.”

Lecce said he has asked the mediator for more bargaining dates to bring everyone back to the table.

Lecce and associations representing trustees said a key issue was rising absenteeism rates among CUPE members.

CUPE members take an average of 15 days of sick leave or short-term disability each year, diverting resources from students and programs, said the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association in a statement.

The Ontario Public School Boards’ Association said it has proposed a “modest alteration” in the amount of wages employees on short-term disability receive. CUPE’s sick-leave plan provides for 131 days of sick leave or short term disability annually: 11 days at full salary and 120 days at 90-per-cent salary, the association said in a statement.

Education unions have said the rising sick leave rates are partly attributable to the increasing stress faced by teachers and other educators, with violent behaviour among students on the rise.

CUPE represents office staff; educational assistants who help children with special-education, behaviour or mental health needs; early childhood educators in kindergartens; IT staff; librarians; and custodians, among others. (The custodians at the Ottawa Catholic School Board, however, are represented by another union.)

Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s school board council, called the government and school boards “highly irresponsible.”

They could have reached a fair deal that protects devices for students, but instead “chose to disrupt students’ education,” she said in a statement.

CUPE had warned that its members would begin the work-to-rule if talks on the weekend failed. All the province’s other education unions have fought against the provincial government’s proposals to increase class sizes and cut funding to some programs.

The union said 585 CUPE jobs across the province have been eliminated, and other staff have had their hours reduced.

Some of the work-to-rule guidelines issued by CUPE include: office staff will not operate door buzzers, input or copy progress and report cards, supervise children, replace paper or fix jams in photocopiers, or collect, spend or use any funds. Educational assistants will not complete written reports, prepare material for class, complete attendance or allow a class to proceed if a teacher isn’t present. Custodians won’t clean hallways, offices and gyms, perform ground maintenance like cutting grass or pick up garbage or empty trash cans outside the school.

Both CUPE and Lecce emphasized that student safety would the first priority. Members make an average of $38,000 a year, according to the union.

In Ottawa and surrounding rural areas, the job action includes the Ottawa Catholic School Board, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est; Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario; the Renfrew County District School Board; the Catholic District School Board of Eastern Ontario; and the Conseil scolaire de district catholique de l’Est ontarien.

CUPE members staged a work-to-rule campaign during the last round of contract negotiations in 2015.

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Record one million job losses in March: StatCan





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





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





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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