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Ontario | Education union members defy Ford government’s special law

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(Toronto) Thousands of education workers walked out on Friday morning to protest the passage by Doug Ford’s government of a special law prohibiting the use of strikes. The law, passed Thursday, also imposes a non-negotiated four-year collective agreement on 55,000 education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Workers picketed on Friday, honking, waving flags and chanting “stand up, fight back” on the first day of an indefinite walkout.

Union leaders said the action would continue “until our members decide otherwise”.

The largest demonstration took place in front of the Legislative Assembly, where workers spread out on the lawn and marched in line around the building in the streets closed off by the police.

Members of other unions, including the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) and Unifor, joined CUPE members on the picket lines.


PHOTO FRANK GUNN, THE CANADIAN PRESS ARCHIVES

Ontario Premier Doug Ford

The Ontario government on Friday petitioned the province’s Labor Relations Board to declare strikes by education workers and actions by union leaders illegal.

The Progressive Conservative government has used the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to already protect itself against any constitutional challenge to the special law. The right to strike has been recognized by the Supreme Court as a constitutional right.

Education workers represented by CUPE were protesting Friday morning outside the offices of politicians, including hundreds outside the constituency office of Education Minister Stephen Lecce in Vaughan.

CUPE says the Ford government’s special law is an attack on the bargaining rights of all workers, so the union stuck to its strike call for Friday, even if the walkout becomes illegal. CUPE maintained this week its slogan of an indefinite general strike for the 55,000 education workers – teaching assistants, janitors, librarians, daycare workers and administrative staff.

Aaron Guppy, a janitor with the York Region District School Board, was picketing outside Minister Lecce’s office on Friday morning. “If they take away our rights as a union, all the other unions will be next. They’re not going to stop with us, he argued. We’re here to basically show that we’re not going to back down, we’re not going to accept this terrible deal. People support us. »

Hefty fines to come?

The special law provides for fines of up to $4,000 per strike day for union members and up to $500,000 for the union.

CUPE plans to challenge the fines, but says if it has to pay, it will. CUPE leaders hinted this week that the union was seeking outside financial help from other labor organizations.

Many school boards in the province, including Toronto, had warned that schools would be closed in the event of a strike.

The Department for Education has urged school boards to “keep schools open” if possible, or else “support students in a rapid transition to remote learning”.

Several Ontario school boards said Friday they would switch to remote learning indefinitely next week if the strike continues.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) – which had previously said schools would be closed until the strike is over – said on Friday it hoped for a deal, but will have to move on. distance learning if the action continues.

“TDSB students will begin transitioning to synchronous (live, interactive) learning early next week, if the strike continues,” the board said in a note sent to parents.

The Toronto Catholic District School Board (TDCSB) and York Catholic District School Board (YCDSB) said their schools will remain closed next week in the event of an extended strike and students will begin remote learning on Monday.

In Peel Region, the school board said schools will remain closed on Monday in the event of a strike, and students will begin remote learning on Tuesday if job action continues.

The government initially proposed increases of 2% per year for workers earning less than $40,000 and 1.25% for everyone else. Minister Lecce clarified this week that the new four-year agreement decreed by special law would grant 2.5% per year to workers earning less than $43,000 and 1.5% for all others.

But according to CUPE, this framework is not entirely accurate, because the increases depend on hourly wages and salary ranges, so the majority of workers who earn less than $43,000 a year would not get 2, 5%. CUPE argues that these workers, who earn an average of $39,000 a year, are generally the lowest paid in the entire network. The union was demanding annual wage increases of 11.7%.



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