Education workers, unions vow to keep pressure on Ford government

CUPE workers and supporters marched outside MPP Lisa MacLeod's office Saturday.  (Rosalie Sinclair/Radio-Canada  - image credit)
CUPE workers and supporters marched outside MPP Lisa MacLeod's office Saturday. (Rosalie Sinclair/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Even though kids have returned to class and Bill 28 is expected to be officially repealed, Ontario education workers and their supporters continued pushing Saturday in Ottawa for the Ford government to reach a better deal.

Some 55,000 Ontario education workers walked off the job on Nov. 4 after the province used back-to-work legislation and the notwithstanding clause to force a contract on them and effectively take away their bargaining rights.

The strike ended last week when Premier Doug Ford announced he would claw back that legislation.

While it's expected the bill will officially be repealed Monday, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members who rallied Saturday outside Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod's office in Ottawa said their fight for a decent contract isn't over.

"We all need to keep standing together. Education workers are standing by, not down," said Jessica Sheahan, an education worker and regional representative for the Ontario School Board Council of Unions.

Wages for education workers have risen far less quickly than the rate of inflation, said Sheahan.

CUPE had originally been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent and said it later tabled a counteroffer that cut its wage proposal in half.

The Ford government originally offered raises of two per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others.

The four-year deal imposed by Bill 28 would have given 2.5 per cent annual raises to workers making less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent raises for all others.

"Bill 28 still needs to be repealed," Sheahan said. "We were given a promise, and it should happen Monday, but we want to make sure he knows we're still watching."

Other unions continue to support CUPE

The pressure on the Ford government came not just from CUPE but also parents and other public unions marching with them — and on Saturday they were back again.

"We have to keep up the pressure so that they get a fair deal and fair economic increases," said Alex Silas, the Public Service Alliance of Canada's regional executive vice-president for the national capital region.

"That's true across our movement. Workers are fed up with poor treatment."

Evan Mitsui/CBC
Evan Mitsui/CBC

Silas and other union representatives said the use of the notwithstanding clause sent a ripple through the labour movement, raising concern about what may happen with other negotiations.

"Every unionized worker in Ontario was shocked when the premier passed the legislation to stop us from free collective bargaining, from striking. And for the Ontario Nurses Association, we're going to the table in January," said Linda Silas, president of the Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions.

"I'm here as a nurse. I'm here as a union leader to make sure that my tax dollars go towards public [services] like education, like health care and like public administration."

Education Minister Stephen Lecce was not available for an interview Saturday, but last week the Ford government said it would present an "improved offer" — one that would be especially good for lower-income workers

He declined to go into further detail, however.

On that same day, Laura Walton, the president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said there were still issues with the offer.

Both said they wanted to focus on good bargaining efforts.