55,000 Ontario education workers to walk off the job as indefinite strike begins
Ontario education workers are to strike today at overseas political offices with a major demonstration planned for council in Toronto.
That’s where, the day before, the Progressive Conservative government enacted a law that banned the contracts of 55,000 education workers, who were represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
The law also uses notwithstanding clauses to protect against constitutional challenges.
But CUPE says the law is an attack on all the workers’ rights and the strike will take place anyway, warning that it will take longer than one day.
The law sets fines for violating the ban for the life of the agreement up to $4,000 per worker per day, while the fines are up to $500,000 for the union.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has suggested the government may pursue those penalties, with the union saying it will file a bill for fines against the workers, which could cost as much as $220 million a day.
In a statement issued early Friday, Lecce’s ministry said it has filed a complaint with the Ontario Labor Relations Board in response to “unsolicited actions.”
He stressed that the government will “use every means available” to get students back into the classroom.
For its part, CUPE will fight over the fined policies, but at the end of the day the union said: if it has to be paid, it will pay. CUPE leaders have previously suggested the union seek extra financial support from other labor groups.
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Many school boards across the province, including the Toronto District School Board and most boards in Eastern Ontario, have said schools will be closed during the strike, while others plan to move to remote learning.
The Ministry of Education urged school boards to “contingency contingency plans, where every effort is made to open schools to as many children as possible”, and otherwise “must support students with a rapid transition to remote learning”.
The government’s first offer raised two percent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 percent for everyone else, but Lecce said the new, four-year tax would give 2.5 percent of annual donations to those making less than $43,000 and 1.5 percent for everyone else.
CUPE said the formation is not accurate because raises actually depend on hourly wages and pay scales, so many workers who earn less than $43,000 a year do not earn 2.5 percent.
CUPE said its workers, who make an average of $39,000 a year, are usually paid the lowest school fees and have asked for an annual salary increase of 11.7 percent.
The union said it would cut its wages by more than half in a proposed counter-offer and give it control Tuesday night and “substantial” moves in other areas as well. But the government said it would not negotiate unless CUPE called off the strike.
Members of many other unions are organized to join CUPE members on the station lines.