Written by Alex Cosh
Nine days after Ontario education workers pressured the Doug Ford government into repealing draconian legislation that imposed a new contract and made striking illegal, CUPE announced Wednesday it has issued a fresh five-day strike notice.
In a statement, CUPE explained it had been able to reach a "middle ground" with the Ford government and the Council of Trustees’ Associations (CTA) on wages, which the union says have been cut 10.2 per cent in real terms over the past decade.
However, the statement continued, "the government refused to invest in the services that students need and parents expect, precipitating this escalation."
Laura Walton, an educational assistant and president of CUPE's Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU), was quoted in the statement saying: “It’s incredibly disappointing that the Ford government categorically refused to put money on the table to give students the type of learning environment they need.”
In particular, the statement highlighted the union's request for more investments for children with special needs, including children with autism who require additional support.
“We’ve heard from parents desperate for these improvements," said Walton. "We felt their support at our protests across the province. And we’re not going to turn our backs on students, parents and families.”
Speaking at Queen's Park, Education Minister Stephen Lecce characterized CUPE's decision as "entirely unfair to children."
"I think we are all disappointed that this is the path the union has taken," he added.
At a news conference Wednesday, Walton revealed that the pay increase agreed between the union and the Ford government would amount to 3.59 per cent for all workers over the course of the contract. That increase is less than one-third of what the union had previously asked for.
As we reported last week, CUPE and unions across Canada were expected to call for a general strike in Ontario after Ford passed Bill 28, the legislation that imposed a new contract and made going on strike illegal.
On Nov. 7, the day the action was expected to be announced, Ford promised to repeal Bill 28, which he did on Nov. 14. CUPE then called off its previously planned strike action, but maintained its legal strike position.
Since then, labour researchers and others have debated whether CUPE made the right decision. You can read about some of the issues raised in these discussions in this article published by our friends at Passage, and listen to our in-depth discussion about the roots of the dispute on the latest episode of The Maple's North Untapped podcast.
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