“Stand up, fight back.”
That’s one of the many chants heard Friday at Queen’s Park, as protesters demand better wages for education workers.
It’s despite legislation passed in that building Wednesday, making a strike illegal and barring further negotiations between the provincial government and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 55,000 educational support workers across Ontario.
Some schools are closed across the province, as those workers walk off the job.
Colleen Costa, Recording and Corresponding Secretary for CUPE Local 4400, says the strike will continue “until further notice,” with the union paying any fines laid on striking workers. CUPE 4400 represents workers at Canada’s largest school board, the Toronto District School Board.
“They need to work two to three jobs to make ends meet. They can’t afford to live, our staffing has dropped, there are not enough temporary employees, and it’s just shameful,” says Costa.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce says in a statement that with the passing of Bill C28, the province will “use every tool available” to stop the illegal strike. Costa says the bill is an “attack on the Charter of Rights,” adding that other unions will not let that stand.
“This is a call out to all the [union] locals that are out there,” says Costa. “We have locals from every sector saying if they’re going to attack education workers, they’re going to be attacking them as well.”
Costa says Lecce and Premier Doug Ford need to “show some maturity” and sit back down with CUPE at the bargaining table. The mediator called off negotiations between the two parties on Thursday, saying the sides were “too far apart.”
“This government, the way they treat our students, our families, it’s shameful, and you should be embarrassed for that,” says Costa. “Please, everyone take a stand, because we’re not going to let this continue. We want people to have good lives, a decent wage, to live with dignity, with health and safety, and we’re going to do it.”
***With files from Martin Halek