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A protester's sign depicting Doug Ford with the words "Don't be a bully" and a hammer with "Notwithstanding Clause" printed on it. November 4th, 2022. Photo credit: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

CUPE Education Workers, Families, and Community Members Protest Bill 28, Ford Government Agrees in Writing to Repeal Legislation

Written by
Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay
and
and
November 7, 2022

Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect Doug Ford's written notice to CUPE to repeal Bill 28. Last update: 1:00 November 7th, 2022.

CUPE Education Workers, Families, and Community Members Protest Bill 28, Ford Government Agrees in Writing to Repeal Legislation
A protester's sign depicting Doug Ford with the words "Don't be a bully" and a hammer with "Notwithstanding Clause" printed on it. November 4th, 2022. Photo credit: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith’s office was closed to walk-in traffic all day last Friday November 4th as hundreds of workers, community members, and students gathered over the course of the day to demonstrate in solidarity with the 55,000 Ontario CUPE education workers and against Bill 28, the so-called “Keeping Students in School Act.” 

CUPE, or the Canadian Union of Public Employees, represents workers across the province employed in various roles in schools, including Custodians, Early Childhood Educators, Educational Assistants, and more. These workers are essential to the safety of learning and teaching environments and the move to walk off the job and participate in this ongoing labour action has resulted in school boards across the province having to shut down in-person learning.  

President of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, Laura Walton insisted on Friday that the walkout was in fact a "political protest" and not a strike, marking a shift in language and in response to the Ontario government’s decisions to appeal to the Ontario Labour Relations Board late Thursday evening. Walton testified before the Board on Saturday, as did CUPE Ontario President, Fred Hahn.  

Walton called attention to the location of the actions being in front of MPP offices across the province rather than schools and in direct opposition to the Government’s “decision to trample upon employees’ constitutionally protected right to collectively bargain and right to strike.” The government is asking that the Labour Relations Board rule that the province-wide walk-off be labelled an illegal strike following the passage of Bill 28. The legislation preemptively invoked Section 33 of the Charter, colloquially referred to as the Notwithstanding Clause, in order to prevent legal challenges to the enforced contract which has effectively halted bargaining between the province and education worker unions since November 3rd.

A protester carries a rainbow flag from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA) outside MPP Dave Smith's office on November 4th, 2022. Photo credit: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

Members of unions including OSSTP, OPSEA, ECTE, OECTA, and PIPSC were all in attendance to show their support for their CUPE colleagues in Peterborough. 

Ontario School Board Council of Unions Peterborough Regional Aide, Taylor Popplewell told Arthur that morale on the day had been amazing and that the protests and job walk-offs would go on as needed. 

“Students are falling through the cracks. I want to reiterate to parents that we don’t want to be out here,” Popplewell said.

Popplewell, who represents approximately 800 workers across the Peterborough region belonging to CUPE Locals 5555, 1453, and 997, also mentioned that this action is the inevitable consequence of government cuts to staffing and funding, pointing out that Education Minister Stephen Lecce’s insistence on a “normal school year” is at odds with the Government’s unwillingness to engage in the collective bargaining process with good faith.

“Lecce is a pathological liar. They are refusing to meet,” she said. “We won’t be intimidated. The government can throw whatever fines they want at us. We’ll fight for what we deserve.”

A sizable number of local parents showed up with their children and were enthusiastic in their support for the workers who ensure their children’s learning conditions are safe and productive. Parents shared with Arthur that they were here with their children so they could see the power of and importance of protest and standing up for rights.

“It’s important to remember that we are parents, too. We want to be at work,” one parent and Educational Assistant in attendance told Arthur. They did not wish for their name to be used as under Bill 28, their attendance on Friday is considered illegal.

Both the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board KPRDSB and the Peterborough Victoria Northumberland and Clarington Catholic District School Board were closed to in-person learning on Friday with both Boards announcing that asynchronous learning options would be available. Both also released statements which informed parents that they would be closed on Monday November 7th in recognition of their inability to safely open schools. 

At one point, a man in a Bell Communication van rolled his window down to yell at protesters that “This is what online education is for” in what is probably the worst pitch for the company’s services on record. 

One protester in attendance, Peter Votsch, a 45-year member of the International Socialists, and a retiree member of CUPE 7797 told Arthur that acts of mass defiance are core to working class history. 

“This is how we make gains. Being unionised with a collective agreement grants dignity, not equality. Unions raise the floor across the private and public sectors,” he said before going on to indict the Ford government: “This government only prioritises profit. They are using our labour to enrich themselves and their donors as they move funds from the public to the private sector.”

Photo of a protester's sign which states "Hey Ford, Ontario is not a Dictatorship. Get your hands of Hands off our Charter of Rights." November 4th, 2022. Photo credit: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

As of writing, Dave Smith has yet to make any public statement since he voted to override the Charter rights of his constituents with a smile on his face on November 3rd. He did, however, find time on Friday to retweet a few of Stephen Lecce’s statements claiming the government was doing everything it can “to end this illegal strike.” He has since echoed these sentiments in articles by The Examiner

Arthur has reached out to Mr. Smith’s office and will update this space should he respond.

On Monday, November 7th, Doug Ford stated in a press conference that should CUPE return to the bargaining table then his government would rescind Bill 28. Later in the same day, CUPE National President, Mark Hancock held a press conference alongside numerous union leaders from both the public and private sector indicating that the Ford Government had confirmed in writing that they would repeal Bill 28. In exchange, Laura Walton confirmed that CUPE workers would be back at work on November 8th but reiterated that they remained in a legal strike position following the repeal of Bill 28.

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