Ontario education workers strike ‘until further notice’ despite heavy fines in a new law

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Canadian Union of Public Employees Secretary-Treasurer Candace Rennick. CUPE says Ontario education workers on strike Friday will continue striking indefinitely despite a new anti-union law. Photo courtesy CUPE.

Nov. 4 (UPI) — Ontario education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees are striking Friday, closing most schools in the greater-Toronto area, despite a threat to impose heavy fines on them. Hundreds of education workers are picketing government offices.

The union said the strike will continue until further notice, according to CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.

Negotiations over a new labor contract ended without agreement Thursday. Ontario passed a law, Bill 28, that forces a four-year contract on the education support workers — including custodians, education assistants, early childhood educators and administrative staff — and outlaws a planned strike by up to 55,000 workers represented by the union.

The law would fine individual education workers $4,000 a day and fine their union $500,000 a day. Doing the math, if applied to all 55,000 union workers the daily fines would come to $220 million per day if the heaviest maximum fines are imposed.

According to Candace Rennick, CUPE’s national secretary treasurer, the union will fight the fines. She said if the government of Ontario and Premier Doug Ford want to clog up the justice system by fining workers, then bring it on.

“Ontario’s Ford government has done everything it can to undermine the bargaining process and resist the rightful demands of our union, but we keep getting stronger, we keep pressing forward, and we will not stop,” said Rennick in a statement. “No government, no employer can hold us back.”

In a statement, the union said corporations “made out like bandits during the pandemic” and are currently profiting from record inflation.

“We simply don’t accept that Canadian workers should have to shoulder the weight of yet another economic crisis,” it said.

CUPE had sought an 11.7% pay increase for members to compensate them for high inflation. But giving ground in the negotiations, according to the union, they dropped their pay increase request on Thursday to approximately 6%.

In the last three months, Canadian inflation went from 8.1% on an annual basis to 6.9%.

The new anti-union law in Ontario imposes just a 2% pay increase for education workers making less than $40,000 and just 1.25% for the rest.

The newly passed law seeks to keep students in classrooms, but it does it by stripping away worker rights and using government power to force labor terms onto the education staff.

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