LETTER:Government’s passing of Bill 28 an “incendiary bomb”

Dear Premier Ford, On Thursday night, your Ontario government passed the Keeping Students in Class Act (Bill 28).

This comes as a response to CUPE’s decision of last Sunday to initiate strike action on behalf of 55,000 education workers. As illustrative comparison, CUPE’s shot across the bow was met with return fire that is rightly described by many as an incendiary bomb.

Regardless of one’s perspective on CUPE tactics or rhetoric in these negotiations, there is no denying that your government, irrespective of intention, has overreacted to the threat of job action.  Bill 28 pre-emptively takes away the right of workers to use the strike mechanism and imposes obscene fines for contravening job action.

Most egregiously, the bill imposes four years of unilaterally determined terms and conditions on these workers. Because the Supreme Court has in multiple instances found similar conduct by other governments to have infringed on Charter rights, the province also invoked the notwithstanding clause of Sec. 33 to insulate its conduct from future court challenge. Canadians have a generally positive view of the right to unionize and the labour and employment laws that enshrine the right of workers to collectively bargain in a peaceable forum for the establishment of just and fair working conditions. This includes the right to strike.

Although there are very different views on how and when that right to strike should be invoked, it’s generally accepted that the right to impose economic sanctions on an employer is what establishes a balance of power in our system of collective bargaining.

When that right to strike is not available, as is the case for essential service workers like hospital employees and firefighters, the parties are afforded an alternate system, called interest arbitration. As a consequence of Bill 28, these education workers have been deprived of either tool. Minister of Education the Hon. Stephen Lecce and you both claim that the government is only doing what’s necessary to keep children in school.

While that may be the intent, there are a host of actions that might have been taken to achieve just that. Such reasoning by the government doesn’t account for the decision to end future bargaining by inserting unilaterally imposed wages and working conditions. Students and working families should not be pawns in a bargaining power struggle, and neither should the 55,000 mostly female workers whose wages have eroded during the last 10 years, and precipitously so in the last 18 months.

As it stands, the wage increases set out in Bill 28 are far below the increases being achieved by union and non-union workers in the province. Our union supports the call for an immediate repeal of Bill 28. Further, we call on the parties to get back to the bargaining table to work out a fair, reasonable, and equitable outcome for these education support workers.

Sincerely yours,

Ian DeWaard

Ontario Director

Christian Labour Association of Canada