55K workers compel Ontario right-wing Premier Ford to back down from anti-strike law
Ontario's right-wing Conservative Premier Doug Ford backed down from pushing a draconian anti-labor law in the face of stiff resistance by 55,000 workers. | Photos: Ford photo from AP / Rally photo from CUPE Ontario

TORONTO (PAI)—A forced strike by 55,000 education workers in Ontario, members of the Ontario affiliate of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, compelled right-wing Conservative provincial premier Doug Ford to withdraw his new law imposing a draconian settlement on them. His Bill 28 had a small raise, a ban on strikes, and more privatization of their jobs.

In a televised press conference at 11 am on Nov. 7, three days after the CUPE workers had to walk out, Ford pledged to withdraw the measure if there was a similar “effort in good faith” by the union to return to bargaining.

The union promptly agreed, saying the strike would end the morning of Nov. 8. But Ford must call the provincial parliament back into session to scrap Bill 28.

CUPE leaders, at their own press conference, started closing protest sites on Nov. 8, They acted, they said, after Ford put his commitment in writing.

Ford’s Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, said the right-winger’s regime would repeal Bill 28 “in its entirety.” That includes repealing a clause barring court and legislative challenges—except for Canadian federal government intervention.

That ban on challenges so alarmed John Costa, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, and John De Nino, president of the Canadian ATU, that they wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging him to invoke a rarely used constitutional provision overriding such provincial legislation.

Costa and De Nino said Bill 28 could harm all Canadian workers, not just the 55,000 CUPE members or their own ATU Local 1587’s 2,200 members in Toronto. Those workers were forced to strike their bosses, Metrolinx, at 12:01 am Nov. 7 after seven months of fruitless talks over safety and outsourcing issues.

After agreeing to end the forced strike, Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario affiliate which represents the education workers, added she hopes school administrators now come back to the bargaining table in good faith. But if talks fall apart again, she said, the workers—70% of whom are women—will be forced to walk again.

Nevertheless, CUPE called Ford’s reversal a win for all Canadians, not just union members. CUPE National President Mark Hancock said his Ontario members took on Ford’s right-wing government “and the government blinked.”

Bill 28 “is a call to arms for union members, workers, and anyone who believes in Charter rights across Canada,” said Hancock, referring to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, similar to, but more extensive than, the U.S. Bill of Rights. CUPE Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick called Bill 28 “the worst piece of legislation we’ve ever seen leveled at the labor movement.”

“This isn’t just about education workers, this is about the rights of all working people across the country,” Hancock added in that prior statement after a briefing from Ontario local union leaders.

Ford claimed his government originally offered CUPE raises of 2% a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25% for others. Staffers said Bill 28’s four-year proposal would give 2.5% yearly raises to workers making less than $43,000 and 1.5% for the rest.

CUPE replied hourly wages and pay scales mean most lower-paid workers would get 1.5%, too. The union first sought 11.7% yearly raises but cut that proposal in half.

Meanwhile, the 2,200 members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1587 in Toronto also had to strike after the transit agency, Metrolinx, in Canada’s largest city adamantly refused to bargain for seven months about the local’s two key issues: Safety and outsourcing. The transit workers rejected the agency’s contract offer by a 91%-9% margin, authorizing the strike at the same time.

“Metrolinx negotiators failed to come to the table with a reasonable offer to address any of our key issues,” ATU Local 1587 President Rob Cormier told the international union.

“Protections against contracting out are imperative to ensure that experienced workers are on the job running GO Transit safely and efficiently. Without these protections, Metrolinx can contract to outside companies which will hire inexperienced workers in precarious, non-union positions.” We have been bargaining in good faith for more than seven months with the aim of avoiding a transit stoppage, but I cannot say the same of Metrolinx’s negotiators

“Even in these final hours, the company did not offer a single serious proposal on our priority issues. We strike only as a last resort, but the company’s stonewalling tactics have left us no choice.”

The two strikes in Ontario were important for several reasons. One is that Canadian labor law is more pro-union than the U.S., although provincial labor laws differ from each other, with Ontario’s among the most progressive. Ford wanted to change that. His action is particularly important because Ontario is far and away Canada’s most-populous province, with 14.224 million people, 38% of all 37 million Canadians.

Ford’s proposed override of Ontario’s labor law in turn prompted ATU President Costa and ATU Canada President De Nino to write Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to invoke the federal constitution to stop Ford’s Bill 28.

“Ford’s cynical and cavalier” move “is not just an attack by the powerful against the hardworking school staff. It is an attack on all rights protected by the Charter, on the right to judicial review, and on Canadian norms of fairness and democracy,” the two union presidents told Trudeau. “If Doug Ford is unwilling to protect those rights, then the Canadian government has no option but to do so.”


Press Associates
Press Associates

Press Associates Inc. (PAI), is a union news service in Washington D.C. Mark Gruenberg is the editor.