- CUPE to end education worker strikes in Ontario after Ford repeals Bill 28
- Spokesman for the TDSB said schools are set to reopen on Tuesday
- Follow along for the more important updates on the walkout and ongoing negotiations with our reporters
The Ontario government wants the province’s labour board to end what it has characterized as an unlawful strike by thousands of educational support workers, who forced schools to close when they walked off the job on Friday.
In an application filed with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, or OLRB, late on Thursday, the government says it is seeking an “unlawful strike declaration” against CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, which represents the workers. Also named are Laura Walton, OSBCU president, and Fred Hahn, head of CUPE Ontario. The government is seeking an order “directing that any and all unlawful strike activity immediately cease.”
OSBCU argues in its own submission to the board that the job action is not a strike, but rather a “legitimate political protest” to oppose the government’s “decision to trample upon employees’ constitutionally protected right to collectively bargain and right to strike.”
The government passed legislation on Thursday that imposed a contract on the union’s members and overruled their right to strike.
The proceedings before OLRB chair Brian O’Byrne started Thursday night and continued into the weekend. Late Friday, the union’s lawyers argued that Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce and assistant deputy minister of education Andrew Davis should be summoned to testify.
The hearing resumed Saturday morning when Mr. O’Byrne ruled that Mr. Lecce would not appear before the board because his testimony would interfere with parliamentary privileges. However, Mr. Davis will be called to testify. Mr. O’Byrne said his hope was to wrap up the proceedings on Saturday.
Mr. Lecce has vowed to get the more than one million students across the province who were forced to stay home on Friday back in classrooms using “every tool available.”
The Ontario Federation of Labour organized protests at noon across the province on Saturday in support of education workers, including one at Yonge and Dundas square in Toronto.
On Friday, OSBCU members, who include education assistants, custodians and other support staff, set up picket lines outside politicians’ offices and the provincial legislature at Queen’s Park. On the south lawn of the legislature, protesters waved placards and shouted “no more cuts” and “we won’t back down.” Some marched around the building, while others danced to music.
Asked what the union would do if the OLRB rules against it, Ms. Walton did not indicate next steps.
“We will need to see,” she said outside the legislature. She added that workers have called for the protest to continue until the government offers a better deal.
The union faces hefty fines for its actions under the legislation, known as Bill 28: $4,000 a day for each worker who walks out, with a $500,000-a-day penalty for the union.
The bill imposes a four-year contract on the union. Ontario used the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to prevent the union from bringing a court challenge against the loss of its right to strike.
Many schools – including in Toronto, York and Peel – were closed Friday as the union defied the government and walked out.
Thousands of education support workers across Ontario walked off the job on Friday, setting up picket lines outside Queen’s Park and politicians’ offices. Some of the protesting workers tell us why they took industrial action after the provincial government fast-tracked legislation that imposes a contract on the union.
The Toronto District School Board is among several boards that have said they will remain closed Monday if union members don’t return to work. The boards have said these workers provide critical daily services such as lunchroom supervision, support in kindergarten classes, and safety and security on school grounds.
In a memo to school boards, the government said it wants them to make “every effort” to keep schools open, and that if there are health and safety concerns the boards must make a “speedy transition” to remote learning.
Not all school boards were closed on Friday. Several of them, including the Waterloo Region District School Board, said none of their employees are members of OSBCU, meaning their classrooms aren’t facing disruptions.
The Halton District School Board, meanwhile, said it would alternate between in-person and remote learning for its elementary schools if the union’s job action continues into next week. The union represents custodial staff in its elementary and secondary schools. The board said that secondary schools would remain open every day because under its local contract, high schools are permitted to use contract custodial staff.
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board announced late Friday it would be closing schools and moving to online learning Monday if the job action persists, after initially saying schools would remain open because they didn’t have many employees walking off the job.
The collective agreement imposed on OSBCU by the government’s legislation includes 2.5-per-cent annual wage hikes for workers earning less than $43,000, and 1.5-per-cent hikes for those earning more. Both raises are far below what the union is demanding.
Mr. Lecce said the legislation was needed to keep children in classes after their learning was disrupted during the pandemic, and by pre-pandemic labour strife.
The government’s use of the notwithstanding clause has led to widespread criticism. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on social media on Friday that he spoke with national union leaders about Ontario’s “inappropriate preemptive use” of the clause, and that the federal government “stands firmly with our country’s workers.” Ottawa has said it is looking at options for intervening in Ontario’s decision, but it hasn’t provided specifics.
The Ontario government and OSBCU were in talks for much of the past week. Last Sunday, the union had given the required five days’ notice of job action. It has said the government gave it an “ultimatum” to either withdraw its plan to strike or face back-to-work legislation. The two sides spent the following days holed up in a Toronto hotel with a mediator, in a last-ditch effort to broker a negotiated deal.
Ms. Walton said the government wouldn’t budge on the terms of the contract imposed by its legislation, after rejecting a union counter-offer on Wednesday. That counter-offer included roughly 6-per-cent annual pay increases for workers, who the union has said are among the lowest paid in the education sector. The union had previously demanded 11.7-per-cent annual wage hikes.
The contracts of all education unions, including teachers, expired at the end of August. This was widely expected to be a difficult round of bargaining. The other unions are still in discussions with the government.
Several other unions have expressed support for OSBCU. Members of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario took part in the protests on Friday.
Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, said it would donate $100,000 to help pay for any fines levied against OSBCU members.