Province working to impose CUPE contract, workers plan to strike anyway
Students across Ontario likely won’t be in the classroom Friday as CUPE plans what will be an illegal strike.
They’re protesting legislation which forced them back to work before a strike began, imposes a contract limiting wage increases to well below the current rate of inflation and uses the not-withstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to take away collective bargaining rights.
The union representing custodians, school secretaries, early childhood educators and assistants as well as library and computer technicians gave notice to begin bargaining in June. By August, it had presented its proposal – the union was looking for a raise of $3.25 per hour or an 11.7 per cent increase. Officials say many members make $39,000 a year and have been hit hard by inflation. Inflation sits at about 7 per cent right now.
The province was offering 1.5 per cent.
The talks produced little and on Oct. 17, both sides agreed to meet with a private mediator. Those talks disintegrated two days later. Sunday, just days before they were asked by the mediator to return to the bargaining table Nov. 1, CUPE said workers would walk off the job Friday.
Instead of negotiating on Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Premier Doug Ford were defending the ‘Keeping Students in Class bill which it was expected to pass in a matter of days. The legislation is designed to stop any work action which would disrupt the classroom.
The bill also imposes an annual increase of 2.5 percent for those making less than $43,000 a year. The increase will be 1.5 percent for those making over $43,000. It also gives the province the power to fine workers who walk off the job $4,000 per day and the union $500,000.
Even before word of the back to work legislation broke Monday, the President of Local 1238 CUPE in Lambton, Michelle Lalonge-Davey, requested to meet with Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey on Nov. 4 to discuss the labour dispute with the support workers in schools. That meeting will not be taking place because, she said, Bailey has been instructed not to meet with her.
Lalonge-Davey had asked for the meeting on Nov. 4, the MPP’s regular day to meet with constituents since many of Local 1238 members are constituents of Bailey.
“We are stretched thin,” Lalonge-Davey said, adding the union is fighting for the kids, families and improvements to the education system. CUPE has been pushing for its members, families and supporters to flood MPP offices with phone calls, emails, while also getting in front of their government representatives, face to face, to tell them of their displeasure in dealing with the pending labour action.
“It is a violation of our rights,” said Lalonge-Davey, of the legislation the Ontario government plans to pass which would avert a strike action since it prevents workers from negotiating a collective bargaining agreement, she said.
The union is not the only group voicing concerns about the imposition of the contract by stripping the union’s right to bargain using the not-withstanding clause of the Charter. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged the Ontario government to rethink the move.
“Using the notwithstanding clause to suspend workers rights is wrong,” Trudeau told the CBC Tuesday. “I know that collective bargaining is sometimes difficult but, it has to happen. It has to be done in a respectful, thoughtful way at the bargaining table. Suspending people’s rights is something you only do in exceptional circumstances and I would hope that all politicians call out the use of the notwithstanding clause to suspend workers rights and freedoms.”
Unions are also lining up to back CUPE including LIUNA President Joe Mancinelli who has been a supporter of the Ford government.
“We urge you to revoke the recently announced anti-union legislation that erodes the collective bargaining rights…free and fair collective bargaining is Charter protected, historical right that is the foundation of labour rights and must be respected,” he wrote to Lecce.
Aside from the suspension of bargaining rights, Lalonge-Davey says the deal the government is imposing will hurt the lowest paid education workers.
“This is essentially a pay cut overall,” said Lalonge-Davey, given the level of inflation is currently at seven per cent. She also doesn’t like that there are two different pay increases for her 1,000 members – 2.5 per cent for those under $43,000 and 1.5 per cent for those over that mark..
Tuesday, Lambton CUPE members took to the streets in Sarnia, in front of Bailey’s office to protest the move. More than 100 people gathered with less than a day’s notice.
Meantime, the directors of education in Lambton-Kent were warning parents of what is to come. “A full strike would mean none of these important supports for schools would be in place and the LKDSB will not be able to safely operate our schools,” wrote John Howitt, the public board’s director.
“If an agreement is not reached this week and if the Ontario government legislation does not pass and the strike proceeds, all LKDSB schools will be closed to students on Friday.”
Scott Johnson at the St. Clair Catholic board agreed saying Catholic schools will also close Friday.
“We do not take this decision lightly,” he wrote to parents.
“Student supervision, safety and wellbeing are our first priority. Without the important services of these school-based employees, the board cannot ensure learning environments will remain safe and clean for all students.”