Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) may finally end up seeing sought-after wage increases after a recent scare involving government legislation which imposed a contract on them. Bill 28 – a product of Doug Ford’s progressive conservative government – was passed in the Ontario legislature quite easily, owing to the Ford government’s majority. The Bill has since been repealed in its entirety.
Bill 28 came about after months of talks between the CUPE union and the government did not achieve a result on which both parties could agree. The union, which represents lower paid education workers such as custodians, educational assistants, and early childhood educators, had been pushing for annual wage increases of about 11% over the course of a three year contract. While quite high compared to wage increase demands from other unions, CUPE has argued that this level of wage increase is necessary after years of its members’ wages not keeping up with inflation, which has effectively resulted in a wage cut in today’s economy. When it was clear that the government was done negotiating, the union gave a mandatory five-day strike notice for a strike set to begin on November 4.
Citing years of school interruptions owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce promised parents that students would remain in class no matter what. On November 3, Bill 28 was passed. The Bill imposed a contract on CUPE workers with much lower wage increases of approximately 2% annually, and also made strike action illegal, with fines as high as $4,000 for members not showing up to work. Forbidding collective bargaining and strike action violates the Constitution, but Ford and Lecce vowed to use the Notwithstanding Clause as a workaround to quash any court challenges to the Bill.
Despite Bill 28, CUPE education workers didn’t show up for work on November 4 or November 7, causing a full shutdown of schools across the province on those days. With mounting pressure from an alliance of unions across Canada, as well as members of the public in the wake of the Constitutional violation, it was announced on November 7 that Bill 28 would be fully repealed by the same government that enacted it.
As part of the deal for the repeal of Bill 28, the CUPE union ended the strike action, with members returning to work and strike action ending on November 8. The bargaining for a new contract thus resumed, with CUPE members retaining the legal right to strike again if a deal is not reached that satisfies both parties. Another five-day strike notice would need to be served before any new strike action begins.
As of the time of writing, negotiations were still ongoing.