Lambton CUPE leader buoyed by support
Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative
Close to 300 picketers lined Christina Street in Point Edward in front of Sarnia-Lambton MPP Bob Bailey’s constituency office Friday, on the first day of a strike by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
“I am elated,” said Michele Lalonge-Davey, president of CUPE Local 1238ofthe support on the line. Lalonge-Davey says it is not just about getting a
collective bargaining agreement anymore. It is about fighting for our rights.”
The Progressive Conservative government passed the Keeping Students
in Class Act through the Ontario Legislature on Nov. 3, which imposed a contract on education support workers and made any strike action illegal. The bill also uses the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect against any constitutional challenges. This is only the second time in Ontario the notwithstanding clause has been invoked, both times by Premier Doug Ford.
Motorists honked their support as the mood on the picket line was upbeat. Many other unions joined the CUPE picketers to show their solidarity. “We are all in this together,” said Frank Harris, the business manager of Local 530 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. “If they get away with this, the Ford government can do this to any union.”
Alison Mevis of Petrolia was just one of the many members of the CUPE walking the picket line. The single mother of two is a full-time early childhood educator in a Kindergarten class at Holy Rosary Catholic School in Wyoming. She also has a casual position at the library and she sells Avon.
“My bills are paid, that is about it,” said Mavis. There are no vacations and no savings, she said, adding a vacation for her might be a day at a nearby beach.
“We are here for the kids,” said Mavis, who is currently enrolled to get a Bachelor of Education through the University of New Brunswick. “We work our butts off.”
Many of the education workers have to apply for employment insurance when school is not in session. Sometimes it has been until the end of July until Mavis gets her first employment insurance payment.
Many schools across the province, including the Lambton-Kent and St. Clair District Catholic schools closed on Friday due to the labour action. CUPE represents 55,000 education support workers in Ontario, which include educational assistants, early childhood educators, custodians, school
secretaries, librarians and computer technicians.
CUPE was looking for a looking for a raise of $3.25 an hour or an 11.7 percent increase. The union cut its wage proposal in half in a counter-offer it made Tuesday night, but the government said it would not negotiate unless the strike was called off.
CUPE members make an average of $39,000 a year and are generally the lowest paid employees in the schools. The Keeping Students in Class Act impose a four year deal on the education workers and gives those making less than $43,000, a 2.5 percent annual increase with those making more than $43,000, 1.5 percent annual increase.