By Hannah MacLeod
The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) continued to protest the provincial government’s plan to remove their right to strike on Monday.
Locally, crowds which include custodians, early childhood educators, educational assistants and office administrators, have been gathering in downtown Kincardine, outside of MPP Lisa Thompson’s office.
School support staff had their right to strike taken away by Minister of Education, Stephen Lecce, last Wednesday. That currently leaves CUPE strikers in an illegal strike situation and their union is being penalized with fines for each day they are off the job. This also threatens two million students, province-wide.
“All along, we made a promise to do whatever it takes to keep kids in class,” said Lecce, in a release on Nov. 3. “We will keep that promise. Let’s remember why we’re here. After demanding a nearly 50 per cent increase in compensation, CUPE threatened to strike.”
“Since then, we’ve been at the table,” he continued. “Right up to the last minute, we’ve made good faith efforts to reach a fair deal. But all along, CUPE refused to take strikes and disruption off the table. Even today, CUPE refused to take strikes and disruption off the table.”
“For the sake of Ontario’s two million students…to keep classrooms open, they’ve left us with no choice but to pass the Keeping Students in Class Act,” said Lecce. “It’s disappointing that we got here. All along we had hoped to reach an agreement that’s right for students, right for parents, right for workers and right for taxpayers. But CUPE wouldn’t budge. They refused to take a strike off the table.”
“I want to make something very clear,” he conluded. “If CUPE continues with their strike, they will be breaking the law.”
“We’re part of CUPE, fighting for our rights as well as everyone else’s,” said Anne Trushinski of Kincardine, on Friday. “We want a fair deal, and we don’t want to be part of an illegal strike.”
“The government has passed legislation which violates our charter of rights, as well as the rights of all Ontarians,” said Shirley Bushell, an educational assistant and the president of Local 3447. “Our human rights are being violated!”
Affecting local schools already, the Bruce-Grey Catholic School Board closed its schools Friday before switching to remote learning on Monday. Updates will be posted to their website, bgcdsb.org/labour_update
The Bluewater District School Board remains open with all busses running, however, all extra-curricular activities have been cancelled and families have been asked to pack litterless lunches to reduce the amount of waste in the schools. Updates will be posted to families through SchoolMessenger as well as social media. BWDSB has also made a page designated to labour updates on their website www.bwdsb.on.ca/Spotlight/Labour_Updates
In a letter released Friday, BWDSB staff stated: “Our CUPE staff provide essential services in our local schools and board facilities. We will be closely monitoring the impact to daily operations as this situation evolves and making decisions accordingly. We remain firmly committed to prioritizing the health and safety of our students and all staff.”
A press release issued Monday afternoon by Lecce’s office stated. “CUPE has agreed to withdraw their strike action and come back to the negotiating table. In return, at the earliest opportunity, we [Provincial government] will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and be at the table so that kids can return to the classroom after two difficult years. As we have always said and called for, kids need to be back in the classroom, where they belong.”