By Dr. Toba Bryant
In early November, Ontario was on the brink of a general strike when the Ford government pass Bill 28 imposed a contract on education workers that would have restricted their incomes – already the lowest in the education system — for four years. The government invoked the notwithstanding clause denying them their right to collectively bargain and take job action, criminalize strike action, and block legal challenges to the bill.
The government offer consisted of a 2.5 per cent annual raise for workers earning less than $43,000 and 1.5 per cent increase for those with higher incomes — well below inflation and the draconian legislation to enforce it drew outrage not only among the workers, but also parents, students, and labour leaders from across Canada. Education workers are school librarians, custodians and education assistants.The Canadian Union of Public Employees’ (CUPE) Ontario’s School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU) that represents the workers won a strike mandate with 96.5 per cent of members voting in favour.
CUPE led a job action on November 4. Social media posts threatened a general strike if the Ford government did not rescind Bill 28. Ford filed an appeal to the labour relations board to have the job action declared illegal. Thousands across the province joined the job action to protest the government’s actions. A rally organized by the Ontario Federation of Labour blocked the busy intersection of Dundas and Yonge in downtown Toronto for one hour on November 5.
The unified response of the labour movement forced the government to repeal Bill 28. It was recognized by mainstream media and others that Ford had trampled on the rights of a group of predominantly female and racialized workers. The threat of disruption forced the government’s hand. The Canadian labour movement has rarely come together to challenge government action in recent memory.
Education workers support to students and teachers and deserve a fair contract. Bill 28 was an attack on workers’ rights and ultimately an assault on public services in Ontario. OSBCU has reached a tentative agreement with the government, but continuing vigilance and resistance are essential.