A photo of Members of CUPE local 4154 protesting on Friday, November 4 outside of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry Progressive Conservative MPP Nolan Quinn's office.
Members of CUPE local 4154 protesting on Friday, November 4 outside of Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry Progressive Conservative MPP Nolan Quinn's office. Credit: Nick Seebruch

Unions across the province have expressed their support for striking Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario (CUPE Ontario) education support workers.

CUPE Ontario represents 55,000 educational support workers who began marching on the picket lines on Friday, Nov. 4.

On October 30 CUPE Ontario gave notice to the provincial government of their intention to strike after failing to reach a deal in their negotiations for a new three-year contract. At issue is pay for their unionized employees, who are some of the lowest paid public workers in the province, with an average annual salary of just $39,000.

In an attempt to prevent a strike, the government of Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford passed Bill 28 on Thursday, Nov. 3. The bill imposes a new contract on the union with a salary increase of just 2.5 per cent, well below the rate of inflation.

Ford invoked the notwithstanding clause in passing Bill 28, meaning that it cannot be struck down in court. It also makes the strike by CUPE Ontario illegal.

Unions show solidarity

In reaction to the use of the notwithstanding clause, which CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn called a “monstrous overreach” and the “nuclear option,” other unions have expressed their support for the striking education support workers.

In a notable show of solidarity the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) President JP Hornick announced on Thursday that their own 8,000 unionized education workers would also walk off the job on Friday in support of CUPE’s strike.

A statement from Hornick reads: 

“Bill 28 isn’t just an attack on education workers’ collective bargaining rights, it is an attack on all workers’ rights. And after hearing from hundreds of our education workers and their local leaders who want to support their CUPE colleagues, our response to this unprecedented legislative overstep is clear: OPSEU/SEFPO education workers will walk out in solidarity with their CUPE colleagues this Friday.” 

Some local chapters of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (OSSTF) and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) also went on strike in solidarity with CUPE on Friday.

ETFO President Karen Brown joined the protest that took place in front of Queen’s Park in Toronto.

CUPE workers face fines for violating Bill 28

CUPE workers who are striking are facing steep fines of up to $4,000 a day each for violating Bill 28.

The union has stated that its members would not have to bear the financial burden of these fines and Unifor has stepped up with a $100,000 donation to CUPE as a sign of solidarity.

Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has been advocating on behalf of CUPE Ontario employees.

In a press release on Friday, Bruske said that she had spoken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and urged him to intervene in the labour dispute.

“He is considering options to intervene to stop Ontario Premier Doug Ford from violating workers’ rights–including using the disallowance clause of the constitution,” the press release reads.

The disallowance clause is the only tool that the federal government has to counteract the use of the notwithstanding clause by a provincial government. The last time the federal government used the disallowance clause was in 1943.

Striking workers ready for a fight

Spirits were high amongst the striking educational support workers as they marched on the picket lines on Friday.

The unseasonably warm day saw thousands of workers and their supporters march and protest.

Signs read slogans like “Education workers keep schools running” and “My second job bought this sign” while also decrying Bill 28 as undemocratic and a violation of their rights.

“Our members are here not just for themselves, but for their students, their families, and their community,” said Trudy Scott, President of CUPE Local 4154 as she marched on the picket line in Cornwall.

She added that their local MPP, Progressive Conservative Nolan Quinn refused to meet with them that day and had previously said that he had little power in the legislature. Despite that statement, Quinn did vote in favour of Bill 28.

Scott promised that she and her fellow CUPE Ontario members would be back on the picket line come Monday and would continue to strike for as long as it took for Ford to repeal Bill 28 and give them a fairer deal.

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Nick Seebruch

Nick Seebruch has been the editor of rabble.ca since April 2022. He believes that fearless independent journalism is key for the survival of a healthy democracy. An OCNA award-winning journalist, for...