Education workers strike commences at Queen’s Park

4 November 2022 / by Daniel Centeno

Thousands of education workers, union representatives and supporters gather at Queen’s Park for the first day of a province wide strike. 

After negotiations broke down between the Canadian Union of Public Employees(CUPE) and the Ontario Government this week, the marches and picket lines 

began province wide on the morning of Nov.4.

The largest demonstration was at Queen’s Park outside the provincial legislature.

On Nov. 3, the Ontario government voted to use the Notwithstanding Clause to push forward Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act, 2022. 

The act imposes new regulations and fines on education workers and unions that choose to strike. 

Despite the threat of fines, several unions, sectors and school boards were in attendance to show solidarity with the education workers. 

“I’m here to support the workers who have decided that they have had enough and are outraged by the undemocratic back-to-work legislation,” said Julius Arscott of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU). “We’ve told our 8,000 education workers that we will support them if they decide to engage work stoppage in support of the CUPE folks.”

Arscott is an executive board member of OPSEU.

Solidarity was also shown by the Toronto Catholic District School Board(TCDSB). 

Rene Jansen in de Wal, first vice-president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), said education workers are the ones that help schools function each day, and that the government is denying them of their right to fair pay. 

“We’re here to support all the workers…all the people who make the school community safer, cleaner,” said Jansen in de Wal. “They’re the ones who help the most needy kids, help the teachers with the most difficult tasks. We have a premier and a [education] minister that don’t understand schools at all.”

Parents of children who rely on special needs educators and assistants also voiced their support for CUPE during the protest.

Charlotte Coghill said her youngest child is in a special needs program. Without the support of education workers in schools, she said children will not get the proper education they need and deserve. 

“Without the support of EAs [education assistants], custodians, secretaries, lunchroom, crossing guards, school bus drivers, everybody like that: our children, they’re not going to get the proper education that they should get,” said Coghill. “To pass a bill that they did yesterday, and kick people that fought to be in the government positions that they are in, is beyond ridiculous.”

Coghill also said her husband is a custodian working in the York Region district school board.

People in a line are walking outside on a road. The person on the right is holding a large white sign on a stick with writing and drawings on it.

Marches around Queen’s Park continued after union leaders made their speeches. Photo by Daniel Centeno/CJRU.

CJRU had the opportunity to speak with Toronto Centre MPP Kristyn Wong-Tam about the Ontario NDP Party’s continued support for education workers and unions.  

Wong-Tam said Premier Doug Ford started something he cannot finish, and said the movement for fair pay will continue to grow.

” As we have always, we have supported them [education workers] through investments, we’ve always supported them by fighting for more investments, fighting for fair living wage, we’ve supported them through their bargaining process as well as negotiations leading up to arbitration,” they said.

Wong-Tam and the 15 other Ontario NDP MPPs were kicked out of legislature on Nov.2 after outbursts against Bill 28 and the use of the Notwithstanding clause. 

NDP leader Peter Tabuns repeatedly called Ford a liar, and was the first to be kicked out when his words were deemed unparliamentary by the house speaker. 

CUPE Ontario union president Fred Hahn told the media that they are prepared to continue the strike on Monday, and indefinitely if a deal cannot be reached. 

Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said he has contacted  the Ontario Labour Relations Board to ask to declare the strike as illegal. CP24 was the first to report

The 55,000 education workers that are striking include education assistants, early childhood educators, custodians and administrative assistants. 

CUPE has been supported by other Unions including OPSEU, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Association, Unifor, the Canadian Labour Congress and many others. Strikes and picket lines were also in Vaughan outside the constituency office of Lecce. 

The fines the government is planning to impose on education workers who strike is $4000 per day, and $500,000 against unions. 

During negotiations, CUPE called for an 11.7 per cent pay increase. The government refused and countered with a 2.5 per cent increase for those that make $43,000 annually or less, and a 1.5 per cent pay increase for those that make more than that threshold. 

The strike is expected to continue into next week. 

Several school boards, including the Toronto District School Board and the Toronto Catholic District School were closed on Nov.4 due to the strike. 

More details to come. 

Listen to CJRU’s coverage of the education workers strike at Queen’s Park: