Education support staff return to work following protests, repeal of Bill 28

Education support staff return to work following protests, repeal of Bill 28
Diana Powell, Secretery; Krista Damant, Secretery; and Melanie Cattle, Food Technician. —Haldimand Press photos by Jillian Taylor.

By Mike Renzella

The Haldimand Press

HALDIMAND—Facing growing public backlash and protests across the province, Premier Doug Ford has repealed Bill 28, the back-to-work legislation passed last week which sought to penalize education support workers who took part in union strike actions that shut down several Ontario schools last Friday and this past Monday.

The repeal followed reports of other unions preparing massive strike action in solidarity with CUPE members, who under Bill 28 were facing fines up to $4,000 a day for striking. On Monday morning, Ford promised to rescind the bill in exchange for CUPE ending their strike action.

CALEDONIA—Sandra Foster, Food Technician, was one of dozens of people protesting on Argyle Street North on Friday, November 4, 2022.

“CUPE has agreed to withdraw their strike action and come back to the negotiating table. In return, at the earliest opportunity, we will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and be at the table so that kids can return to the classroom after two difficult years,” said Education Minister Stephen Lecce at a press conference.

CUPE National President Mark Hancock called the bill a “regressive attack that united the labour movement like never before,” commending the thousands of education workers who walked off the job. “We’ve shown that when under attack, our movement is strong, and we will stand up for each other.”

Haldimand Norfolk MPP Bobbi Ann Brady took on a fiery demeanour in addressing the strike at Queen’s Park last week, prior to Friday’s walkout and the eventual repeal.

“I’m a bit cranky about what’s going on here. Who here actually cares about our education workers? Who here actually cares about our students?” questioned Brady. “We have one side of this House that is concerned with getting even with unions and is again threatening the notwithstanding clause. We have another side that encourages political action.”

EAs Mikaykla Theoret and Baili Moerschfelder.

Following the repeal, Brady issued a press release, noting how she is “glad kids will be back in class as both CUPE and the government return to negotiations.”

In addition to voting against Bill 28 twice last week, Brady said she had written a letter to Education Minister Stephen Lecce on the issue. 

“I was also concerned about the government and CUPE feeling the wrath of parents if a strike persisted; both of them looked bad on this one,” she said.

A large crowd of protestors locally joined the provincewide effort last week, spilling out on to the sidewalks of Caledonia on Argyle Street North on Friday. The Press spoke to some of the participants about why they were there.

“We’re here for job security, wages, cost of living, to support the kids because we’re getting less quality people who apply because it’s a lower wage – so we’re out here fighting for that and we’ve noticed that,” said Melanie Cattle, a Food Technician at a local school.

“I have worked in Caledonia for 22 years and I have not gotten a raise in 10,” added Sandra Foster, another Food Technician.

EA Anna Mesa told The Press she has to work three jobs to support her family because of her salary, while another EA, speaking anonymously, said she also has to work three jobs to pay their bills. That person added, “I bring home maybe $26,000 after taxes and union fees. We’re fighting for our rights and fighting for our wages. My question to everybody is can you live on our wage?”

Diane Hawke, Caretaker, and Maxine Elliot, EA.

“We don’t all make $27 an hour. Every board is different – and the Grand Erie Board is the lowest paid of any of the boards – always has been,” said Caretaker Diana Hawke. “They’re giving all the parents misinformation and that’s what makes us feel bad. Because they’re like putting us all in one category of making $27 an hour and we’re not.”

EA Maxine Elliot said the bill calls Canada’s credibility on the world stage into question, stating, “This is impacting our nation’s creditability and our unions as well. The right to strike is a fundamental right.… It’s more than just about a living wage. To have job protection language taken out, is not good. And them trying to mess with our short-term disability? We got to stand up for each other and fight.”

“I feel like it’s very empowering having everybody out here together fighting for such an important issue in education,” added participant and EA Mikayla Theoret.

Anna Mesa, EA.

While schools are now open and education workers are back on the job, Laura Walton, President of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, has warned that CUPE is willing to strike again should the renewed negotiations fall apart, calling the end of protest actions this week a measure of “good faith.”

Brady concluded, “I would like to praise the government for doing the right thing and for CUPE leaders withdrawing pickets as their end of the bargain.”