Education workers picket across Ottawa to kick off strike

Approximately 50 education workers protested outside the office of Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod on Friday. The workers are picketing despite the Ontario government's law banning any strike. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Approximately 50 education workers protested outside the office of Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod on Friday. The workers are picketing despite the Ontario government's law banning any strike. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

Education workers gathered at picket lines across Ottawa Friday morning, including at the offices of Progressive Conservative MPPs, to express their dissatisfaction with the province forcing a contract on the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

The union says low pay and overall job dissatisfaction are at the heart of the demonstrations.

They gained a new political dimension this week when the Progressive Conservative government imposed contracts on 55,000 education workers and banned them from striking.

Despite the invocation of the notwithstanding clause — which allows parliament and provincial legislatures to override parts of the charter — CUPE has opted to protest anyway, earning up to $220 million in fines a day.

Workers aired their frustration outside Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa Macleod's office, not only about their desire for a pay increase but also about their feelings that their democratic rights had been trampled.

"I used to think that we lived in a democracy, but now I'm not so sure," said Alison Moy, an office administrator now on strike.

"I don't know any [educational assistants] that don't have a second job because they just can't afford to live on our salary," said Helen Fiset, who was standing next to her.

"We're just asking for a fair rate of inflation compared to what things are costing."

By 8 a.m., approximately 50 workers and parents had already gathered at Macleod's constituency office, which had a sign on its door reading that the office would remain closed on Friday.

"My second job paid for this sign," read one sign held by protestors. "We deserve a fair deal," read another.

Laura Glowacki/CBC
Laura Glowacki/CBC

Eight of eastern Ontario's 12 school boards have moved to online learning, with the other four saying their plans vary if the strike continues next week.

The education workers picketing include librarians, custodians, educational assistants and those working with medically fragile children.

In a statement issued early Friday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the ministry has already filed a submission to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in response to the "illegal strike action."

"Nothing matters more right now than getting all students back in the classroom and we will use every tool available to us to do so," the statement reads.