Ontario Education Workers Fight for the Rights of All

Workers Respond to What Their Material Conditions Dictate

Solidarity Saturday action outside Premier Doug Ford's office, November 19, 2022.

The striving of CUPE education workers in Ontario for wages and working conditions acceptable to themselves is based on what their material conditions dictate, not on some whims which according to the government are not affordable. They were informed on Sunday, November 21 that the union has now reached a tentative agreement which is being put to an online vote between Thursday, November 24 and Sunday, November 27. All that was public until now, including to rank and file union members, was the rumour that the union had accepted a $1.00 per hour raise each year over a four-year term and that the sticking point in the negotiations was the issue of expanding the number of support staff in schools to address the shortage of staff in all areas. The demands to increase staffing and improve working conditions are crucial to education workers, teachers, administrative personnel, students and parents because the situation in the schools is currently intolerable and unsustainable. Workers are also asking themselves what the monetrary increase will look like against the cost of living four years from now.

When the Ontario government passed a law, the Keeping Students in Class Act, which imposed a contract written into the law, and invoked the notwithstanding clause of Canada's Constitution Act 1867 to shield it from judicial review, the demands of the education workers no longer fell within the confines of labour law. Their demands became a political protest against a government which resorted to using its police powers to impose a self-serving agenda which it even refuses to discuss. Everything is couched in words which are given no meaning. Even the name Keeping Students in Class Act betrays the government's ill intention to isolate the education workers and teachers who stand as one with them because the dismal conditions in the schools are the children's learning conditions and affect everyone involved, including parents and the society itself.

Behind these attacks are the anti-social aim of the Ford government and ruling elites in general to dismantle the system of public education based on a project designed to serve the public good and to present this as a fait accompli. Governments of police powers are replacing the system of public education with privatized systems of online learning that convert teachers and students into things to be given skills required by the narrow private interests which have usurped the state powers. These interests require a disposable workforce -- in some cases unskilled, in some cases skilled -- which fits into their energy, communications, transportation and security corridors. The state is using public funds to finance the new infrastructure and facilities required in the mines, agribusiness, transportation and other sectors. It includes staffing warehouses and retail stores, the service industry, as well as increasingly privatized health care, long-term care, seniors homes, veteran affairs and on and on it goes.

Education workers refused to submit to this dictate and their strike transformed into a political protest which lasted two days. It was only called off when the government agreed to repeal the law and declare it was never passed in the first place.

Very significant is that the workers never gave up their right to strike when they agreed to stop their political protest. They have refused to submit to the use of government police powers and continue to assert their right to negotiate their wages and working conditions despite the fact that governments nowadays are not keen on negotiating anything, just dictating. Everyone is thus interested to see what the tentative agreement contains and whether a negotiated settlement which provides solutions agreeable to the education workers is on the table. Indications  from what the union has said are that the agreement does not meet the needs of the workers but that the government needs to hear that from the workers themselves through a vote.

It has been confirmed that the CUPE-OSBCU tentative agreement includes a flat-rate wage increase, but the exact amount of the increase has not been confirmed. Based on statements by CUPE-OSBCU, it is clear however the agreement does not include the level of wage increases that were being demanded by the workers in order to keep and attract people into the field, nor does it provide proper funding for the services students in Ontario require. The issue now is can education workers and their allies establish a way forward that unites everyone to force a government to back down. This government refuses to bargain in good faith or uphold a rule of law which does not seek to impose its will through threats of the use of force and with the use of policepowers to silence the resistance movement.

In speaking to the agreement, CUPE-OSBCU President Laura Walton, said: "As required, the central bargaining committee will recommend members accept the agreement during the ratification vote." Addressing education workers directly, Walton said: "You gave the bargaining team a hefty assignment: achieving real wage gains, improving working conditions, and enhancing the services our students need and our parents rely on. You poured your energy into this fight. You organized, you made phone calls, you built solidarity and you deserve so much more. I'm incredibly proud of the work that you have done and now it's your turn to make your voice heard by the government and school boards with the ratification vote."

Addressing parents, Walton said: "The entire central bargaining committee wishes we could have moved the government to make the investments in public education that you not only wanted, but that you needed and that your children deserve. That fight does not end with one setback. We will keep representing your needs and we will keep fighting for you and with you. We will keep pushing for the type of supportive, safe and enriching schools and classes that all children deserve."

Meanwhile, when Education Minister Stephen Lecce spoke to the media to announce the tentative agreement, he mainly used his time to repeat the government's mantra that keeping kids in the classroom, irrespective of the conditions, is the most important thing for his government and that they will do everything "humanly possible" to ensure kids remain in the classroom. He also used the opportunity to issue a veiled threat to all other education unions in negotiations, dictating what teachers and education workers will do with their volunteer time. He said: "This is a positive outcome for all the parties, but the biggest beneficiary of this deal is our kids who are going to have some stability and stay in school, with the full benefits of extra-curriculars and clubs and sports, the educational benefits, the tutoring, all this will be provided to our children tomorrow and every day..."

The ball is now in the court of the education workers. They will decide what to do next.

For the full remarks of Walton to the press listen here.

This article was published in
Number 4 - November 21, 2022

Article Link:


Website:  www.cpcml.ca   Email:  editor@cpcml.ca