Students return to class as Ministry, CUPE return to bargaining table

CUPE education workers protesting outside MPP Todd Smith's office last month. (Desirée Decoste/

 

DESIRÉE DECOSTE

STAFF WRITER

A cease fire in the labour war between the Ministry of Education and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) membership allowed elementary and secondary school pupils to return to class on Tuesday but it’s clear from local members their resolve is strong and they may return to the picket lines.

On Friday and again on Monday, CUPE local 1022 members joined in with fellow members across Ontario in public picketing in response to the Ontario Government passing Bill 28, a piece legislation that used the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to force a contract settlement on CUPE members that work in Ontario’s public schools. Workers in the membership are responsible for custodial, clerical, library duties as well as staffing educational assistant roles.

Locally, workers at the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, Algonquin and Lakeshore District School Board both CUPE and other education union members gathered for a protest outside Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith’s office in Rossmore.

A pledge made by by Premier Doug Ford Monday to repeal Bill 28 later this week led CUPE to instruct its members to return to work on Tuesday but it’s clear there is a strong sense of unity between the various education unions across the province and that the CUPE membership will continue to negotiate for fairer wages in light of a decade of accepting lower-than-the-rate of inflation raises from the province.

CUPE Local President Jo-Anne White (Desirée Decoste/Gazette Staff)

“The camaraderie between the teacher unions and CUPE is amazing and incredible,” Local 1022 president Jo-Anne White told the Gazette Monday after it was announced Bill 28 would be repealed and CUPE and the Ministry would be going back to the bargaining table. “They’ve been out everyday with us, their here, their supporting us, their bringing donations, food, some of the schools are doing grocery cards for their CUPE workers. They are recognizing what the costs are and that the people can’t afford to be without food so their doing lots of nice things for their fellow workers.”

With education workers back to the classrooms and in person learning resumed,  CUPE will return to the bargaining table to seek wages that reflect similar increases awarded to other public public sector unions. In fact, public displays of unity by several high power unions from across Canada concerned over the usage of the notwithstanding clause likely helped CUPE’s cause and forced Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Leece to pull in their horns and return to the bargaining table.  

“The notwithstanding clause is basically a dictatorship forcing a contract on you,” expressed White. “Those types of negotiations went out with the dark ages and collective bargaining came in. Collective bargaining is the right to bargain collectively, just as it states. The Ford government was trying to trample on Human Rights, so its not just CUPE, it’s not just OPSEU, if they come for us now they’ll come for the other unions later. It was an attempt union busting at its finest.”

“I think he realized the fight was to big for him,” said White of Ford’s decision. “I think they thought because our workforce is 70 per cent female that it was just one of those things that they could just shove down our throats and we would just accept it.  What (Ford) didn’t expect was the uniting of the different union groups and the standing up for our Charter rights. But the fight isn’t over and to see the attack on the healthcare industry which is predominantly female and education sector that is predominantly female, is unacceptable.”

White added how proud she is of their members and how strong they stayed through the whole process.

“I’m just so proud of our members,” White expressed. “Here we have both Algonquin Catholic Board and Hastings Prince Edward Board and CUPE members and I’m proud of them and they stood strong. Even when I thought spirits might get down when they started thinking about the loss of income and fines…they were here, they were strong and they realized the importance of solidarity. This was a test that we’ve really never had to face before.”

In a statement on Monday, Leece said with CUPE returning to the bargaining table, at the earliest opportunity, the province will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and “be at the table so that kids can return to the classroom after two difficult years.”

“As we have always said and called for, kids need to be back in the classroom, where they belong,” Lecce said.