November 7, 2022
Growing Support for Ontario Education Workers
Growing Support for Ontario Education Workers
Stand as One with CUPE Education Workers!
Rally and picket at Queen's Park on first day of education
workers' political protests, November 4, 2022.
On November 3, the Ontario government passed Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act, 2022 into law by a vote of 78 to 33, just four days after it was tabled. The legislation received Royal Assent the same day and in so doing imposed a "collective agreement," written into the law itself, onto 55,000 education workers -- members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) -- in the province without their consent or agreement. The law invokes section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of the Canadian Constitution, also known as the notwithstanding clause, that in essence makes the violation of these workers' rights constitutional as the constitution itself permits governments to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The invocation of the notwithstanding clause means that CUPE is blocked from challenging the law in the courts on the basis that it violates Canadians' fundamental freedoms as outlined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Ontario Human Rights Act. In fact, the invocation of the clause means the government is very clear that its actions violate the democratic rights of 55,000 of its citizens and in so doing violates the rights of all.
The law carries fines of up to $4,000 for individuals for each
time they violate the law by engaging in any strike action. This
means a new fine can be applied each day that the political
protest continues and the workers refuse to go back to work and
accept the terms imposed on them. The fines go up to $500,000
for other entities like unions should any of their officers or
agents counsel, procure, support, authorize, threaten or
encourage a strike by any employees during the term of operation
of the new collective agreement.
CUPE had been in a legal strike position and was set to begin strike action November 4 if the government did not seriously address the demands for increased wages and improved working conditions for the workers in the face of inflation and ongoing cuts to education by the government. However, despite its notice of strike action, the union continued to call on the government to negotiate, something the government refused to do, stating that it would only negotiate if CUPE withdrew its strike notice, something the union could not accept.
In defiance of the government's arbitrary and vindictive abuse of power and its open violation of workers' rights, CUPE members refused to give up their demands and rights and began an indefinite province-wide political protest on November 4. Given the government used its majority to pass the law in the Legislature, CUPE has taken their fight into the political domain, making it an issue for the entire polity in Ontario and across Canada. Their picket locations make clear the political nature of their actions as all were held at constituency offices of MPPs across the province. They were joined in their actions by education workers who are members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, who also walked off the job with the support of their union. In interviews, representatives of the CUPE workers have made it clear that they do not intend to return to work until the anti-worker, anti-democratic legislation is repealed and that it will be the members themselves who decide how to wage this fight.
Thousands of education workers and teachers from other unions in Ontario and working people from a broad variety of sectors as well as grateful parents and students all joined CUPE on their lines throughout the protests, coming before and after work and on their lunch breaks. The atmosphere on the lines across the province was very spirited and united.
Grassroots educators from Ontario Education Workers United have started a GoFundMe campaign to permit everyone to financially support the CUPE workers who are sacrificing their pay in order to affirm the rights of all. In some schools, those educators not on legal strike have begun to take up collections and adopt-a-worker campaigns to financially support their co-workers and express their support in a concrete way.
Everyone is encouraged to take initiatives to contribute what they can to this fight as it is a fight for the right of the working people to speak, organize and decide what is acceptable to them and what is needed for a truly modern education system that the whole society benefits from. The importance of the entire polity expressing itself and staying the hand of the government and any attempts to criminalize the workers for their just struggle cannot be understated. Now is the time to stand as one! To find picket lines near you, click here.
"We Won't Back Down!" -- Education Workers
Rally at Queen's Park
Thousands of education workers across the greater Toronto area took part in a spirited rally at Queen's Park on November 4 to demand that the Ford government repeal Bill 28 and negotiate a fair contract. The rally began at 8:00 am and ended after 2:00 pm with a march around the perimeter of the Legislature. Workers from other unions, including the United Steelworkers, UNIFOR, Amalgamated Transit Union locals, all the Ontario teachers' unions, the Ontario Nurses' Association, the Building Trades Unions and many others joined in the action, standing with the education workers organized in the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) - Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU).
The rally was informed that more than 100 actions supporting education workers were taking place at the same time across the province.
Several union leaders addressed the rally.
CUPE National President Mark Hancock and National Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick reported that CUPE unions across the country are standing with the education workers. Hancock made a particular point of saying that CUPE will not be intimidated by the threats of fines to members and union locals for defying Bill 28. He militantly denounced the law as an attack on all workers and said that CUPE will do everything to defeat it. British Columbia CUPE President Karen Ranalletta flew to Toronto to support the education workers.
Bea Bruske, the President of the Canadian Labour Congress, added the labour central's support to the education workers. She informed the rally that she had received a phone call from Prime Minister Trudeau expressing his concern for the workers in Ontario and his regret about the notwithstanding clause being used against the workers. She said that she told the Prime Minister to put his money where his mouth is and to do something about the situation if he is so concerned.
Patty Coates, the President of the Ontario Federation of Labour added her support for the workers' strike action and announced that the OFL was calling on everyone to join a rally at Dundas Square in downtown Toronto at noon the following day.
Laura Walton, president of the OSBCU denounced Bill 28 as an attack on the rights of workers to organize and bargain for their wages and working conditions. She said that the use of the notwithstanding clause was a "line in the sand which we cannot permit the Ford government to cross." She said that the absence of the Premier at the debate and vote in the legislature was also a cowardly act. She called for the repeal of Bill 28 and for the Ford government to return to the bargaining table.
Between speakers, the grounds of Queen's Park reverberated with "We Won't Back Down!" and other slogans. At one point there was a call to recall the Ford government.
The final speaker on the program was CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn who gave a rousing speech which was repeatedly interrupted by shouts and applause. Hahn said that this is a defining moment in the labour movement in Ontario and Canada and called for all unions to join together to defeat this bill. He asked the unions present at the rally what more they can do to stand with the education workers who have been treated with such contempt by the Ford government and who are fighting for their dignity and the dignity of all workers.
Families Rally to Support Education Workers' Fight
The Ontario Parent Action Network held a rally in support of education workers outside the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto on November 3. Hundreds of parents and students joined to express their unequivocal support for the education workers who one speaker said are the "glue keeping the education system together in Ontario."
The rally was a shining tribute to education workers who have been devalued and abused by the Ford government and whose efforts to negotiate a living wage and the working conditions they need to do their important work have been criminalized.
Jess Lyons, a nurse and mother who is a spokesperson for the Ontario Parent Action Network welcomed everyone who had come on short notice to stand with the education workers and recognize their immeasurable contributions to the education system and to the province.
Sandra Huh, the parent co-chair of the York Community for Public Education addressed the rally and pointed out that the Ford government has been attacking the public education system since the first day it took power five years ago. She denounced the Conservative MPPs in the legislature who supported Bill 28 and called the government's use of the notwithstanding clause a cowardly way to attack the rights of education workers and all workers. She said that parents also have to navigate the "nightmare that the Ford government has created" in gutting the public education system because Education Minister Lecce will not listen to reason.
"Our students deserve their educators to be respected in their workplaces. Their workplaces are our children's learning spaces. We are at an unprecedented time. I want my child to be supported in a well-funded school that is staffed by education workers making a liveable wage and benefits," Ms. Huh said.
She added, "We families must not allow this government to take away basic human rights. We must not allow the bullying tactics of Minister Lecce and Premier Ford to continue while our children watch. We must not allow Minister Lecce and Premier Ford or any of the MPPs who supported this bill to nickel and dime our children's education and their future working life. We must stand up for the constitutional rights of all the workers and future workers -- our children."
Krystia Wylie, from the organization Fix Our Schools, denounced the Ford government's Bill 28 and pointed out that since coming to power the Ford Conservatives have also cut school maintenance programs and many schools are in disrepair. She denounced the bogus claims of Ford and Lecce that they care about education and children. She demanded that the government get back to bargaining and negotiate a just contract with the education workers and invest more funds in maintaining schools so that they are safe.
The rally also heard from a mother of a child with autism. She pointed out that the Ford government cut programs for children with autism which they need to function in school and in life. She paid tribute to the hard work that education workers do to support her child and many others who need the extra help provided by education workers in order to function in the classroom and outside.
Everyone gave a rousing welcome to Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions. She thanked the parents and community members whose support was felt by all the education workers fighting for a contract that was fair and just.
Ms. Walton denounced the government for its disinformation campaign aimed at criminalizing the members of her union and its misrepresentation of their wages and conditions of work. She pointed out that she was in the gallery to see the MPPs who voted for Bill 28, and was thrown out of the legislature for voicing her opposition.
One of the most important points Ms. Walton made was to inform everyone that the unions had reached out to parents and parents organizations to find out what parents wanted and incorporated these demands -- including for more support staff and resources, such as libraries -- into the union's demands during the negotiations. Ms. Walton denounced the Ford government saying "We will be here long after you are gone, Mr. Ford. Don't ring the school bells tomorrow. We are not going to be there!"
She called on everyone to speak to their neighbours, friends and family about the struggle being waged by the education workers and to join the picket lines at schools, at the offices of Conservative Party MPPs and at Queen's Park. She called on everyone to call the MPPs who voted for Bill 28 and express their opposition.
Youth also spoke at the rally to highlight their own appreciation of the important work that education workers do. A teenager told the crowd that in his school there were 1,800 students and one janitor who picks up all the garbage and keeps the school clean and safe and is always cheerful and friendly to the students.
A grade 10 student said that he was invigorated by the rally and called on everyone to join the picket lines to support the education workers. "This government has taken education in this province back 50 years and we must not allow this to continue," he said.
The rally lifted the spirits of everyone and strengthened their
resolve to amplify support for the courageous fight of the
Solidarity Saturday Actions Stand with
On the first day of political protests by education workers the
Ontario Federation of Labour called for "solidarity Saturday"
actions to take place the following day, November 5, in
communities across the province. Some dozen actions were posted
to their web page before the day was out and many more were
organized across the province.
In Toronto more than 1,000 people gathered in Dundas Square in a spirited show of solidarity. They filled the main square and spilled onto the streets, closing off traffic at the Yonge and Dundas intersection. They shouted slogans of defiance: Hey Hey! Ho Ho!, Ford and Lecce Have to Go!; Workers' Rights Under Attack. What Do We Do? Stand Up, Fight Back!; This Is What Democracy Looks Like!; Who's Got the Power? We've Got the Power!
The rally had been called less than 24 hours earlier by the Ontario Federation of Labour. CUPE education workers vigorously took up that call, along with supporters from other unions, including from British Columbia and Quebec, as well as Indigenous land defenders from Six Nations 1492 Landback Lane, and Mohawk singers, and parents with children, community advocacy groups and activists.
Patty Coates, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour emceed the event and issued the call that "Wherever you are in this province, education workers are depending on us right now. We know we have the obligation to defeat Bill 28."
Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario, said there had been 126 protests across the province the previous day in support of education workers. Yesterday was just the beginning, he said. "We will bring others to this resistance. We'll make Doug Ford repeal Bill 28. When we fight together, we win together."
Speaker after speaker expressed the spirit of the rally that the right of workers to negotiate wages and working conditions acceptable to themselves, including the right to strike, is not a privilege; it is a fundamental right. As well as the fact that three years into a pandemic there is still no government action to provide paid sick days for all workers, yet the Ford government moved within hours to criminalize CUPE members for exercising their rights. Everyone condemned Bill 28 as a threat to all workers and expressed determination to defeat this legislation.
Following the speeches, everyone marched from Dundas Square to the Sheraton Hotel opposite Toronto City Hall, where the contract negotiations have been held.
Government Appeals to Labour Board to
Enforce Police Powers
On November 4, following the first day of the province-wide political protest by CUPE education workers, a hearing at the Labour Relations Board of Ontario (OLRB) began at the request of the government, which is seeking an order to declare the protest an illegal strike. The hearing was held over three days and at times was joined by more than 2,000 people online, showing the active involvement of many workers in this fight. Present at the hearing were OLRB Chair Brian O'Byrne, representatives of the Goldblatt Partners law firm representing CUPE, a representative of the Crown and of the Ministry of the Attorney General, and a representative of the Council of Trustees' Associations.
At the hearing, the lawyer for the Crown and the Attorney General argued that the OLRB had to rule the province-wide protest an illegal strike given that there was now a collective agreement in place, legislated by the Keeping Students in Class Act, 2022 which had been passed two days earlier. As a result, they argued, the workers had no right to strike because a contract was in place on the day they did not attend work. The Crown further argued that it was not the place of the OLRB to decide whether the legislation was right or wrong or whether CUPE was right in its opposition to the government's violation of its right to collectively bargain, up to and including the right to strike. Instead, they argued, the role of the Chair and the OLRB is to rule that the workers were breaking an agreement they never agreed to and that they needed to be forced to return to work.
The Crown also reviewed at the hearing the websites of the OSBCU and interviews with its leaders to claim that the protests were highly orchestrated and were prepared to continue indefinitely and that this constituted a grave and serious threat to students, parents and the province as a whole which needed to be ended. The Crown repeatedly pointed out that the protests were not isolated and in fact were taking place across the province, making it an even graver threat.
Lawyers for the union argued that the Board in fact had a duty not to comply with the government's request in order to preserve the integrity of the Board and the principles upon which labour relations are based, mainly that labour peace comes out of a balance of rights between the workers and the employer and the recognition that workers have a fundamental right to collective bargaining which includes the right to strike. The lawyers for CUPE and the Chair went over a plethora of previous cases of the board to trace the evolution of the protections for collective bargaining, right to the very start of the labour relations regime. This regime was put it place following World War II to guarantee labour peace in the face of widespread industrial actions of the workers for recognition of their rights to unionize and organize.
In this case, they argued,
workers were unable to participate in collective bargaining
because the government legislated their contract and, in so
doing, sought to prevent them from affirming their right to
strike. Thus, they argued, the action of the workers was in fact
a political protest against the government's violation of their
rights and not a strike according to the definitions in the Ontario
School Boards Collective Bargaining Act which governs
central and local bargaining in K-12 education in Ontario, or
the definition in the Ontario Labour Relations Act which
As such, they argued, the OLRB did not have to declare it an
illegal strike because it is not a strike, and if declared
illegal it would be interfering in political actions protected
by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Furthermore, they argued, if the Board does rule it an illegal strike it is within the Chair's professional discretion to decide what is to be done, based on the recognition that the government is violating fundamental rights protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which is an integral part of the labour relations regime.
During back and forth, various things came to a head when the Chair asked different parties what they thought he could do. The government and the lawyer representing the school boards and the representative of the Ministry of the Attorney General simply wanted him to order the strike illegal and force the workers back to work. Meanwhile, the Chair continued to appear to be coming to grips with the fact that the government itself was humiliating him and his office by stripping the Labour Board of all its powers to facilitate negotiations and provide a safety valve to prevent the workers' movement from being effective. He was left with one role only -- to declare the strike illegal and give credibility to the government's violation of workers' rights.
At one point the Chair addressed what will happen if he cannot use his discretionary powers to facilitate negotiations. If he orders the workers to work, it will not resolve any problems but could make matters worse, but if he does not order the workers back to work, he will not carry out the role his office has been given by the Keeping Students in Class Act, 2022.
The Crown simply repeated that his job is to rule the strike illegal. This is what the law says. He must use his powers to get the workers back to work and 'bring labour stability.' The Chair explained at other points that ordering the workers back to work without having agreed to a negotiated agreement "would leave a festering sore."
The hearings concluded on November 6 and a ruling is expected late November 6 or November 7.
Interview: CUPE Education Workers
Speak for Themselves
In this interview from the Education is a Right podcast, education workers discuss what they think is required to affirm the right to education at this time and what they want to say to workers across the country.
The GoFundMe campaign for grocery funds for CUPE OSBCU education workers referred to in the podcast can be found here.
- Episode 148: Negotiations in Ontario -- "We are not willing to let this government or the courts dictate what schools will look like in the future."
"We are critical to the classroom" -- Ontario educational
support staff speak out.
(Graphic: Megan Simon-Beaudoin)
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Website: www.cpcml.ca Email: firstname.lastname@example.org