No Strike After All

2 minute read

Crisis averted – after spending a weekend at the negotiation table, CUPE and the Ford government have reached a tentative agreement following a turbulent few weeks, which saw a two-day strike, the passage of a controversial bill, and the threat of another strike. 

The troubles between CUPE and the government extend back to the summer, shortly after the Progressive Conservative party won its second majority government in Ontario. Bargaining began in July, and after receiving disheartening offers, CUPE’s three-year collective agreement eventually expired at the end of August. 

Things ramped up in October, with the union entering into mediation with the government on the 17th. After nearly two weeks of talks, CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions issued a strike notice, which signalled workers would strike in five days unless an agreement was reached. In response, the Ford government introduced Bill 28, which invoked the controversial notwithstanding clause to force a contract on workers and impose fines on strikes. Despite the price tag of striking, CUPE members did so anyway on November 4th and 7th, receiving donations and support from labour groups. 

On the 7th, the Ford government offered to repeal Bill 28 if CUPE called off the strike, which CUPE did, and both parties returned to the bargaining table, but unsuccessful negotiations led CUPE to file a notice to strike last Wednesday. In the event of a strike, contingencies were planned by the government, including instructions for schools to pivot to remote learning and government support for parents in the event of school closures. However, after a weekend spent at the negotiation table, CUPE and the government struck a tentative deal yesterday evening. 

Limited details on the agreement have been released, but the Education Minister stated both parties achieved “incremental wins.” However, it has been reported that the deal was reached due to internal pressure and is essentially the same as the most recent offer announced prior to the last-ditch negotiations: a 3.59% wage increase with no funding for student services such as higher staffing levels and the placement of early childhood educators in every kindergarten classroom. 

While the Education Minister’s messaging throughout this ordeal has been about CUPE letting the children down, the same criticism could be levelled toward the Ford government, who may have put their favourable relationship with labour unions in jeopardy. The Ford government successfully positioned itself as a workers’ party on the campaign trail earlier this year, garnering endorsements from unions such as LiUNA, the IUOE, and the IBEW. However, these unions criticized Bill 28 and the government’s decision to invoke the notwithstanding clause. Experts recently stated that the government’s battle with CUPE has strained but not broken Ford’s relationship with labour, but only time will tell if this relationship will mend.
While CUPE members can still vote to reject the current offer and Ford’s relation with labour may never be the same, at least parents can rest easy knowing there will be no strike this week.

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