Montreal, November 7, 2022
On November 4th, 2022, thousands of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members hit the picket lines in Ontario in what marks the first day of an indefinite illegal job action. CUPE voted for a strike mandate after the parties failed to reach an agreement in collective bargaining negotiations. In response to CUPE’s legal strike mandate, Doug Ford’s Conservative provincial government passed back-to-work legislation that invoked the “notwithstanding” clause, which imposed contracts on CUPE education workers. This makes any strike action illegal with hefty fines and removes any ability for the union to challenge this legislation in court. Invoking the notwithstanding clause along with back-to-work legislation is unprecedented in Canadian labour history, and marks an attack on fundamental and constitutionally-protected rights to collectively bargain and strike.
This group of 55,000 public-school sector workers—including education assistants, early child care educators, librarians, and school maintenance staff—represent a precarious class of public-sector workers who make an average salary of $39,000 per year. CUPE is demanding a fair salary increase after a decade of minimal raises, while Ford’s government is forcing essential workers to accept a rate far below inflation with other concessions to benefits such as sick leave. Left with this impossible choice, CUPE walked off the job on Friday, November 4.
Any disruption to teaching and learning is difficult for students, family, and staff after more than two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the situation in Ontario demands stronger action against the infringement of rights of education workers who are essential for supporting a healthy pedagogical environment in daycares and schools across the province.
As representatives of a union for education workers, the Executive Committee of the Association of Graduate Students Employed at McGill (AGSEM) stands in solidarity with CUPE members and all other Ontario unions and workers joining the picket lines. We also urge the Ontario government to repeal the legislation forcing a contract on CUPE workers and return to the bargaining table to negotiate a fair agreement.
AGSEM members who are interested to know more about collective bargaining and its importance to unions can contact bargainingchairTA@agsem-aeedem.ca