CUPE agrees to stop protests, go back to bargaining

Blake Ellis/Local Journalism Initiative Photo Lambton's Local 1238 CUPE members were in front of Bob Bailey's office Monday morning when news broke of the province repealing legislation which imposed a contract. Union leaders were cautious saying there was not a lot of trust built between the premier and the union.

Ford will repeal Keeping Kids in Class Act, education workers back to school Tuesday

“The government blinked.”

That from CUPE President Mike Hancock as CUPE’s Ontario arm announced education workers will shutdown protests, head back to the class and sit down again at the bargaining

The 55,000 members across the province were legislated back to work, Thursday, with the Keeping Kids in Class Act, but walked off the job in what they called a political protest. The workers – custodians, early childhood educators, educational assistants and secretaries – are the lowest paid in the education, with some making less than $39,000 a year.

The workers went back to the MPPs offices this morning, just as Premier Doug Ford was walking back the legislation.

Ford at a news conference this morning said he’d be willing to sit back down at the negotiating table and rescind the imposed contract which gave those making $43,000 2.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent to $43,000.

“CUPE please accept this offer…take strike action off the table and get our kids back to school,” said Ford.

Ford added he didn’t regret imposing the back-to-work legislation saying CUPE is at fault for “walking away from the table.”

The provincial mediator ended the talks saying the two sides were too far apart to reach an agreement.

When Ford was asked if he had miscalculated by passing the legislation he said; “This is nothing we did; this is on CUPE.”

“Stop the strike, get into the classroom,” Ford said adding then the negotiations could restart. “This is a massive olive branch; I’ll rescind Section 33 (the notwithstanding clause) based on them going back into the classroom…Once they do that, we sit down at the table and negotiate a fair deal.

“We need them to come back.”

In Lambton, Michele LaLonge-Davey, Local 1238 president, had not heard all of the details of Ford’s offer but said; “That is the wrong order of operation, sir.” She was waiting for a full interpretation about what the premier was asking the union to do. 

“I will say there is no trust,” LaLonge-Davey said between Premier Ford and the union, but acknowledged the premier wanting to pull back what it passed last week as “baby steps.”

By noon, CUPE Ontario Karen Walton said Ford had put his plans to repeal the act in writing and declared; “We have our bargaining rights back.”

Walton added she is now waiting for a “new proposal at the bargaining table as soon as possible. We’re here waiting, right now, the time is ticking.”

She added while education workers will be back on the job Tuesday, they stand ready to strike if talks don’t go in the right direction.

Walton was flanked by labour leaders, including Hancock who said the legislation was “a direct threat to worker rights and…to all Canadians” because the premier used the notwithstanding clause to remove workers’ rights.

“Our movement is strong and we will stand up for each other.”

Unifor’s president agreed saying the labour movement was prepared to respond with an “unprecedented response.” Lana Payne said Unifor had agreed last night to take whatever action necessary to stop the Ford government from suspending collective bargaining rights.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement: “CUPE has agreed to withdraw their strike action and come back to the negotiating table. In return, at the earliest opportunity, we will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and be at the table so that kids can return to the classroom after two difficult years. .”

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