CUPE Strike Real Challenge Facing Ford’s Government
By Shady Salah
Ontario education workers started their first day of the indefinite strike on Friday morning as the education minister, Stephen Lecce takes them to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
Talks between the Ontario government and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) broke down on Thursday, pushing the education workers to start a province-wide strike “until further notice,” despite it is now being illegal to do so, after passing the Bill 28.
The Keeping Students in Class Act, or Bill 28, was tabled Monday and passed Thursday afternoon. In it, the notwithstanding clause legislated a four-year contract onto workers while making it illegal to take any job action. But the education workers have said they plan an indefinite strike anyway and have urged parents to make alternate arrangements into next week.
In a press conference just minutes after the statement was issued, minister of education Stephen Lecce said he had “no choice” but to pass legislation that will impose a contract on CUPE workers and make their planned strike illegal.
The legislation includes fines of up to $4,000 for workers found guilty of breaking the anti-strike legislation. Lecce said he would use “every tool available to send a clear, unambiguous message” that students should remain in schools.
CUPE has been demanding an 11.7 per cent wage increase, equal to roughly $3.25 more an hour across the board. Under Bill 28, however, the contract sees a 2.5 per cent yearly wage increase for individuals making less than $43,000 per year, and a 1.5 per cent increase for all other employees.
This is a real battle between CUPE and the Ontario government under Doug Ford. Thousands of families are waiting to see who is winning in this battle as either decision will directly affect the families and their children.
The government’s legislation has drawn the ire of several unions, including the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which said its 8,000 education workers, will stage a walkout Friday in solidarity with CUPE. UNIFOR also denounced the government’s Bill 28, announcing full support for CUPE workers.
“We will confront this unjust government action directly. The Ontario Government has shown a total disregard for workers’ rights with the pre-emptive use of the Notwithstanding Clause to refuse to negotiate, prohibit strike action and impose a contract. Unifor will remain in solidarity with CUPE education workers until a fair deal is negotiated,” said Lana Payne, Unifor National President in a statement.
“Our members work side by side with CUPE members every day, and it’s unconscionable that we would cross picket lines during this unprecedented assault on collective bargaining rights. We are respecting picket lines and calling for a fair deal for CUPE members across Ontario,” continued Payne.
The union has encouraged its 163,000 members in Ontario to join CUPE education workers’ picket lines in communities across the province.
Unifor is Canada’s largest union in the private sector, representing 315,000 workers in every major area of the economy, including 800 workers in Ontario’s public and catholic school boards.
The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) has also indicated its 8,000 education workers will be off the job on Friday in solidarity with their CUPE counterparts. The Ontario Dump Truck Association (ODTA) announced it stands with CUPE and all workers in support of their strike action.
The province-wide walkout is a real challenge to Ford’s government and could jolt the entire government if the outcome came on the workers’ side. Many see Stephen Lecce himself could be a scapegoat for this crisis. Despite the man’s exerting efforts since assuming his post, however, this strike could end his career in the ministry, if the CUPE won.