A group made up of members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OACTA) convened outside the MPP’s office Tuesday afternoon for a protest.
It comes in the wake of CUPE intending to strike on Friday, despite the Ontario government’s plans to pass legislation that would force the union representing 55,000 workers in the education sector into a four-year contract.
“We are fighting for a living wage, we are fighting for classroom support,” says Erin Hurford, the president of the CUPE branch that works with the Upper Canada District School Board. “They are slashing our jobs and we need to stop that.”
“Our membership is very important to the schools,” she continues. “Without support staff, the schools cannot run, and we’re looking for the recognition, we’re looking for the understanding that we are the lowest paid education employees, and we keep getting hammered by this government.”
James Roy, a teacher at Brockville’s St. Mary Catholic High School and president of the Leeds and Grenville Labour Council, a group of more than 3,000 union workers in the region, says the teachers wanted to show solidarity with the coworkers they see every day at school.
“But,” he adds, “there’s also, if one was to look at the bigger picture, this bill and this act that the Ford government is doing right now affects all workers in the public sector, because this is an attack on the right for all future bargaining to be done fairly. If they’re going to remove the right to strike, that’s only one of the pressure points that workers have in order for a fair contract to be made.”
“Before unions and without unions,” Roy continues, “all the power is on the employer’s side. And we’ve got a government that’s willing to impose the not-withstanding clause, to override the [Charter of Rights and Freedoms], that’s something that everyone should stand up in solidarity and say, ‘we’re not going to allow this, because this is not what it’s there for.’”
Meanwhile, CUPE is waiting to hear back from the province on a counter-offer they sent late Tuesday night.
A source close to the negotiations, but who is not authorized to speak as a spokesperson, told the Vista National News Desk that members of the union’s central bargaining committee will be available for negotiations Wednesday and Thursday.
The province has said it would return to the bargaining table if the mediator requests it.
CUPE members at the protest are planning another demonstration outside MPP Clark’s office Friday, from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, if the union and province can’t reach an agreement.
We’ve reached out to MPP Steve Clark for comment.