Even with today’s promise of Bill 28 getting repealed by the Ontario government, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees are reminding the province that their fight isn’t over yet.
While Ontario plans to repeal the Act – which made strike-action illegal for protesters with threats of $4,000 fines – the two parties still need to resume wage negotiations and find common ground.
As news broke of Ford’s promise to repeal the act at Market Square in Kenora, where members of CUPE and OPSEU had been protesting the bill, union members stressed the importance of further investments in our schools and staff members.
“If my presence at a school is so valuable that my absence shuts down the school, they should pay me like I’m valuable,” explained Vice-President of the CUPE Local 1939 Union, John Bulles.
“It [was] a silly bill that [took] away our right to strike,” he adds. “It affected every working person in Ontario. The government [was] heavy-handed. They should have been at the negotiating table.”
Overall, CUPE’s strike action as a result of Ontario introducing the Keeping Students in Class Act closed Kenora Catholic Schools on Friday, but Keewatin-Patricia’s schools stayed open during the two-day strike with support from non-union staff members.
“Students want in-class teaching. We want students in the classroom. If Mr. Lecce wants to keep everyone in the classroom, maybe he shouldn’t take out $800 per student every year,” Bulles adds.
Bulles also thanked community members, fellow union members and a number of downtown businesses who had all supported CUPE and OPSEU members over their protest.
The strike action all started as Ontario and CUPE’s negotiations for a new contract continued over the summer after Ontario unveiled a new 4-year plan for education workers.
The plan called for 2 per cent wage increases for staff earning under $40,000 and increases of 1.25 per cent for everyone else.
In response, CUPE called for wage increases of nearly 12 per cent for all workers – with increases in overtime pay, additional education assistants and custodians, as well as increased staffing levels in libraries, offices and lunchrooms.
Ontario’s last offer to CUPE included 2.5 per cent wage increases for those earning under $43,000, 1.5 per cent wage increases for those above that mark, as well as benefit and retirement plan improvements.
CUPE leadership rejected the offer shortly after it was made, leading to the act and the strike.
The Ontario NDP notes the government needs to recall Legislature to fully repeal the act, which they are calling for immediately.