Thousands of Ontario education workers participated in a mass walkout Friday

Ontario’s education workers walked off the job Friday despite legislation passed at Queen’s Park that made a strike illegal.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 55,000 support workers such as custodians, administrative staff and educational support workers, said they will strike “until further notice,” insinuating that the strike will persist.

The government passed legislation Thursday to impose a four-year contract on education workers that bars them from striking. As part of the bill, workers could face a daily fine of up to $4,000 while the union could be slapped with a $500,000 fine.

If the maximum penalty is imposed, the daily bill could amount to $220 million per day.

These are the top moments from Friday’s job action: 

7 p.m.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board hearing is ongoing, as no decision has been made on the legality of the walkout.

4 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he spoke to unions Friday morning and that his government is looking at “all options.”

“It is a very, very serious thing to suspend people’s rights and freedoms,” Trudeau said while in Toronto.”The pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause is actually an attack on people’s fundamental rights.”

3:30 p.m.

The Ontario government attended a hearing at the Ontario Labour Relations Board, arguing CUPE and the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU) “called or authorized or threatened to call or authorize an unlawful strike.”

The hearing was livestreamed here.

2:30 p.m.

In photos: Ontario Education workers protest at Queen’s Park.

1:54 p.m.

Police estimated the crowd size outside of Queen’s Park was between 8,000 to 10,000 people, according to CTV National News’ Heather Butts.

1:43 p.m.

In documents obtained by CTV News Toronto, Lecce called out union leaders who he said “counselled, procured, supported, authorized, threatened, or encouraged an unlawful strike.”

He named Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, and Fred Hahn, the president of CUPE Ontario, in particular.

The minister also alleged that the union “called or authorized or threatened to call or authorize” the strike on Friday.

1:20 p.m.

CTV News Toronto captured the scene above Queen’s Park as the mass walkout took place.

qp from above

1:10 p.m.

Mark Hancock, CUPE’s national president, said the union will have legal representation at the hearing Friday afternoon.

“There was an initial labour board hearing last night. There will be another one at 3:30 p.m. today,” he told CTV News Toronto.

“CUPE’s legal counsel will be there to argue for our members’ right to protest the Ford government’s unconstitutional law, which strips workers of their fundamental rights.”

12:54 p.m.

CUPE workers and supporters set up pickets near MPPs’ offices in Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge.

12:24 p.m.

Lecce elaborated on the next steps for the provincial government as they called on the Ontario Labour Relations Board to officially declare the walkout illegal.

“We brought forward the submission to the internal Labour Relations Board yesterday, frankly, after the passage of the law given that the union confirmed that they’re proceeding now with this illegal strike,” Lecce told CP24.

“We hope to hear back today or tomorrow potentially, on the findings. In the meantime, we’re going to be using all the pressures and frankly, all the levers of the legislation to get kids back to school. We’ve set out a clear expectation to our school boards to use every power, every authority to open as many schools for as many kids as humanly possible.” 

12:05 p.m. 

Lecce asked the Ontario Labour Relations Board to declare the strike and the actions of union leaders illegal. The Ministry of Education said there will be a public hearing livestreamed at 3:30 p.m.

11:45 a.m.

Unifor announced they are donating $100,000 to help striking CUPE education workers hit by government fines.

“The national union and the ORC will each donate $50,000, for a total of $100,000 to CUPE’s strike support for paying fines imposed because of the strikebreaking Bill 28, the law passed on November 3, 2022, that strips education workers of their Charter-protected right to strike and which imposed an undemocratic contract,” the union said in a news release. 

11:10 a.m.

Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF/FEESO), which protested Friday in solidarity with CUPE, issued the following statement in response to the Ford government using the notwithstanding clause to pass anti-strike legislation on Thursday: 

10:52 a.m.

Bird said behind the scenes planning at the TDSB were ongoing in order to quickly transition students into “synchronous” learning, if needed.

“If job action does continue into next week, we will be moving as quickly as we can to synchronous live classroom remote learning, obviously, the fastest we can,” he told CP24.

He said there are already plans in place to hand out computers to students who don’t have their own at home if job action does continue for an extended period of time.

TDSB updates will come to parents and staff as news develops, Bird says.  

10:25 a.m.

Toronto District School Board (TDSB) spokesperson Ryan Bird confirmed to CP24 that schools will be closed on Monday and for the duration of the strike. 

10:12 a.m.

The duration of the strike, which will impact how long classrooms are closed, is still unknown. However, Walton told parents to have a contingency plan for Monday as they plan to hit the picket line indefinitely until a new deal is reached.

“We want to be back in front of our kids as soon as we can, but we can’t go back when you’re stripping away our charter rights, when you’re stripping away our human rights and on top of that, you are not giving any extra money for services and you’re not providing these workers a living wage.”  

10 a.m.

Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council, stood outside of Lecce’s office. She said the minister never truly showed up to the bargaining table.

In response to the looming fines that the Ford government has threatened education workers with for striking — up to $4,000 per day for each individual or a $500,000 per day for the union — Walton said CUPE members are “protected” by the union more than they are by the government.

“But I think the bigger question is, what is this government so afraid of? That they’re willing to go to these extraordinary measures to pressure workers to stop fighting for what should be theirs? And I think that’s the bigger question more than any other fine, more than any other legislation. What is Doug Ford, what are Steven Lecce, what are they afraid of?”  

Laura Walton

9:40 a.m.

CUPE President Fred Hahn shared an emotional response to the strike turnout with CP24:

“I anticipated that there would be a crowd here this morning, but walking up and talking to our members, I am overwhelmed with emotion because I know who these workers are. I know that they are mainly women. I know that their wages are woefully low, $39,000 as an average. I know that most of them are laid off in the summer. And yet, they are willing to stand up and to fight for themselves, to fight for their students and supports and actually, they are fighting for every worker in this province.”

CUPE President Fred Hahn

9:08 a.m.

“It’s definitely overriding the charter of rights and freedoms, right?” one protester told CP24 while holding a pink CUPE sign outside of Queen’s Park.

Another chimed in, “Yeah that is exactly right. We’ll be loud and proud.”  

8:45 a.m.

Many education worker supporters held signs poking fun at Ford and Lecce. One said, “Beware the Snakes at Queen’s Park,” while another reads, “Dumb and Dumber.” 

ont strike sign

8:30 a.m.

More than one thousand supporters arrived outside of Queen’s Park, half an hour into the strike’s official start time.
 
When one protester was asked why he was there, he told CP24, “To stand up for rights and be able to negotiate our freedom.”
 

8:12 a.m.

In response to CUPE’s “illegal” protest, Lecce released the following statement:

“Immediately following proclamation of the Keeping Students in Class Act, we filed a submission to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in response to CUPE’s illegal strike action. Proceedings started last night and will continue today. Nothing matters more right now than getting all students back in the classroom and we will use every tool available to us to do so.” 

8 a.m.

The strike officially began. At Queen’s Park, the main hub where education workers gathered, many held signs of support that say “No Cuts to Education” and “Cuts Hurt Kids.”

Organizers set up for the day as early as 6 a.m. on Friday.

7:35 a.m.

#Teachers trended on Twitter in Canada. Although, teachers are not on strike. It’s the education workers, such as custodians, administrative staff and educational support workers, who participated in the mass walkout Friday.

#CUPE also trended, which is the name of the union representing strike members and stands for Canadian Union of Public Employees.

7 a.m.

People already started to setup for the day outside of Queen’s Park on Friday’s dark and foggy morning. 

6:35 a.m.

Ontario education workers will gather at Queen’s Park for a rally.

Education workers will also picket outside of local MPPs’ offices.

6:15 a.m.

Several businesses around Toronto offered fully supervised programs for kids out of school on Friday.

6 a.m.

Have questions about why Ontario education workers striked Friday? Here is an explainer on everything you need to know.

5:30 a.m.

Here is a full list of the Toronto-area school boards that closed because of Friday’s mass walkout.  

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