Ontario education workers to strike ‘until further notice’ unless deal is reached, union says
Published Wednesday, November 2, 2022 5:53AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, November 2, 2022 3:34PM EDT
The union representing Ontario education workers has said it will go on strike “until further notice” unless a non-legislated deal with the government is reached.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) told reporters on Wednesday its members will walk off the job as of Friday despite legislation that would make striking illegal.
“Without anything changing, we are on strike until further notice starting Friday unless a deal is reached,” said Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.
This is the first time the union has confirmed with certainty the province-wide strike will continue past Friday.
Negotiations between both parties have been at a standstill since Sunday, when CUPE provided five days notice of a strike.
The following day, the Ontario government tabled a bill that would mandate a four-year contract onto the union’s 55,000 members—which include custodians, early childhood educators, education assistants and administrative staff—and prevent them from going on strike.
The bill is expected to pass on Thursday thanks to two motions put forward by the Progressive Conservatives that would fast-track the legislation.
Walton’s comments come after Education Minister Stephen Lecce told reporters that unless the union rescinds its strike notice, the government will not consider any further proposals, no matter how reasonable.
"Take the threat off the table and let’s talk," he said.
"We’ve been very clear. We stand ready to negotiate with any willing partner, but they’ve got to take the strike off the table on Friday. We will not accept a strike this Friday or any day."
Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act, locks workers into a four-year contract that includes a 2.5 per cent increase in salary for those who make less than $43,000 annually and a 1.5 per cent increase for all other employees.
CUPE has been arguing for an 11.7 per cent increase, equalling about $3.25 more an hour across the board.
On Wednesday, Walton said the union has made “significant moves in all areas” on their original proposal; however she would not say what has changed.
“Now we're hearing from the minister that if we don't remove our notice of strike, there will be no response,” Walton said. “I think the big problem is the very bad faith bargaining that is happening right now.”
CUPE confirmed Wednesday evening that the Ford government rejected its latest counter offer.
As it stands, education workers can face steep fines under the government’s legislation if they decide to strike as of Friday. Individuals who defy the legislation could face fines of up to $4,000, while the union itself may be handed a $500,000 fine.
It’s unclear if other unions will take part in the job action on Friday; although several have already offered support in other ways. Labourers' International Union of North America (LiUNA), for example, released a strongly worded statement calling on Lecce to revoke “anti-union legislation and restore the collective bargaining rights of CUPE members.”
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario stepped away from their negotiations earlier this week and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) told reporters Wednesday they are concerned forced contracts could be in their future as well.
“I think everyone who's bargaining right now, whether in education or in other sectors is fearing that this exact same type of thing is going to happen,” OSSTF President Karen Littlewood said.
“It's hard to sit face to face with another group who's bringing in that type of action.”
Littlewood called the legislation “draconian” and “unconstitutional.”
In order to pass this legislation, the Ontario government invoked the notwithstanding clause, also known as section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The clause allows provinces to override certain portions of the Charter for a five-year time period.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the Doug Ford government was wrong to use the notwithstanding clause to legislate a contract.
"The suspension of people's rights is something that you should only do in the most exceptional circumstances, and I really hope that all politicians call out the overuse of the notwithstanding clause to suspend people's rights and freedoms,” he said.
The federal NDP requested that an emergency debate be held on Ford’s use of the clause, but it was denied.