CUPE announces end to strike after Doug Ford offers to rescind education law

The union representing 55,000 education workers across Ontario will end their mass walkout on Tuesday after Premier Doug Ford offered to rescind the legislation that made the strike illegal.

Laura Walton, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ (CUPE) Ontario School Board Council of Unions, said education workers will return to schools on Tuesday.

She said Ford agreed to put his commitment to repeal the legislation that made the Ontario education workers’ strike illegal in writing.

“We have received and can confirm that the premier will introduce and support legislation that will repeal Bill 28 in its entirety,” Walton said at a Monday afternoon news conference.

Walton said Ford has agreed to take this commitment one step further and strip the law from the province’s history.

Introduced in the Legislative Assembly last Monday by Education Minister Stephen Lecce and passed late Thursday afternoon, the “Keeping Students in Class Act” made it illegal for CUPE’s education workers to go on strike by using the notwithstanding clause to override parts of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also imposed a four-year contract on them.

“Organization of members moved the government to this place and the organization and mobilization of members will ensure a real deal is achieved at the table now that this draconian legislation has been removed,” Walton added.

Lecce and Ford confirmed that the government will revoke Bill 28 “at the earliest opportunity” to ensure students return to the classroom.

“As we have always said and called for, kids need to be back in the classroom, where they belong,” Lecce said in a statement after CUPE’s announcement.

Earlier on Monday morning, Ford said he was willing to rescind the legislation that made the Ontario education workers’ strike illegal if their union was willing to stop their mass walkout.

“As a gesture of good faith our government is willing to rescind the legislation, are willing to rescind section 33, but only if CUPE agrees to show a similar gesture of good faith by stopping their strike, and letting our kids back into their classrooms,” Ford said at a news conference on Monday morning.

Negotiations between the two parties have been at a standstill for over a week. Lecce refused to look at a counteroffer CUPE put forward last week unless they took strike-action off the table.

But now, as schools across the province close for a second-school day, Ford said he is willing to be “flexible” and make a “fair deal” that offers more help to lower income workers.

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“Students have been through so much. They don’t deserve to be caught up in the middle of these negotiations. What they need and deserve is to be back to catch up on their learning. For the sake of our students, CUPE please accept this offer. Take strike action off the table and let our kids back in class,” Ford said.

Lecce stood behind the premier during the Queen’s Park news conference, but he did not speak at the podium.

Speaking to reporters after Ford’s news conference, Peter Tabuns, interim leader of Ontario’s New Democratic Party, said the government has the power to get students back in classrooms.

“I think the pressure on the premier is going to be huge, to actually make things happen to bring the legislature back, to get rid of the legislation, and to actually put a fair deal on the table, something that would resolve this crisis,” Tabuns said.

CUPE’s members, which include custodians, early childhood educators, education assistants, and administrative staff, walked off the job last Friday after failing to reach a contract agreement with the Ford government.

Over the weekend, Ontario Labour Relations Board held a hearing to determine the legality of that job action. A ruling is expected Monday.

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