Over 55,000 CUPE workers walked out of school last week to strike in light of Ford’s new legislation

Photo by: Charlie Martin

Last week, Ontario educators were met with a large shift in their rights to strike, as well as a change in their annual wage increase.

A sudden change in the overall security for teachers and education employees alike is the result of the recent passing of Bill 28, or the Keeping Students in Class Act, a piece of legislation which, amongst other things, fines striking workers $4,000 a day, as well as a $500,000 fine a day towards Ontario’s Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE). This legislation has been imposed along with a four-year contract.

CUPE is the largest union in Canada, representing over 280,000 members, between custodial staff, early childhood education and education support workers. In addition to Bill 28’s fining, the legislation also imposes on the union 2.5 per cent of annual wage hikes for workers earning less than $43,000 and a 1.5 per cent increase for those earning more. This follows the union’s initial request for a 6 per cent annual wage increase for the next four years. 

In addition to the legislation’s removal of workers’ rights to strike and the cutting of CUPE’s wage proposal, the government also put in place the notwithstanding clause. Otherwise recognized as Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the notwithstanding clause gives provincial legislatures the ability to override certain portions of the charter for a five-year period.

The notwithstanding clause has only been enacted twice in Ontario’s history, both times by Doug Ford’s government.

“Nothing matters more right now than getting students back in the classroom and we will use every tool available to us to do so,” said Stephen Lecce, the provincial education minister.

The imposing of such a legislation will affect over 55,000 CUPE workers throughout Ontario. This has caused workers throughout the province to walk out, consequently shutting down schools across the province. The strike, which began on Friday, Nov. 6, is to last indefinitely, with CUPE declaring that they will not stop until the government repeals Bill 28. Furthermore, CUPE has labelled the bill’s passing as an attack on all workers’ bargaining rights. 

Although Ford and Lecce seemingly attempted to pass the legislation quickly and silently, many individuals—educators, future educators, and anything in between—are aware of the rights Ontarians deserve to have, and are equally aware of the lack of support and proper funding Ontario education workers have been facing for decades. 

“The Ontario government recently gave 43 of their MPPs a $16,000 raise, bringing their salary to $132,500/year. So why are they refusing to provide a decent wage to Ontario’s lowest paid education workers, who make $39,000/year & are just asking for a $3.25/hour raise to survive?” said Dr. Amit Arya on Twitter.

Alongside Arya, many individuals have taken to social media to demonstrate their desire to not go down without a fight. The same can be seen for those who have walked out of classrooms and have taken to the streets, demanding to have their voices heard.

Many, including Laura Walton, the president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Union have deemed the action beginning on Friday a “political protest,” rather than a strike.

“We’re not out in front of schools. We’re out in front of MPPs’ offices,” said Walton.

Although CUPE plans to fight the legislation in whatever means necessary, the union is looking for outside financial support from other labour groups.

Leadnow.ca has since created a solidarity statement to raise support for CUPE workers and aid the union in overcoming the bill. For those interested in adding your name, be sure to visit the petition here.

Although many have risen against Ford’s government in response to the bill’s passing, Ontario educators’ fight appears far from over.

“Clearly the Ford administration has failed the education system over and over,” said Justin Cristi, a fourth-year concurrent education student at Brock. “As a future teacher, the recent blowout victory by the conservative party in the provincial election is worrying, it doesn’t feel like anyone cares. Hopefully, with the extreme use of the notwithstanding clause, people will start to see how terrible Ford and Lecce are making the education system out to be.”

As of Monday, Nov. 7, education workers have agreed to end the strike and return to work in light of Ford’s agreement to repeal Bill 28.

While the compromise allows Ontarians to return to school starting Tuesday, Nov. 8, a new contract between the government and CUPE is still in the process of negotiation.

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