Roughly 55,000 members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) walked off the job on Friday as school support workers protest at Queen’s Park and at offices of Ontario members of provincial parliament (MPPs). Support staff include early childhood educators, custodians, educational assistants, and library technicians.
If you haven’t been following the details, Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government rammed through controversial legislation that overrides workers’ Charter rights. It also imposes a four-year contract on school support staff and includes an annual salary increase of 2.5 percent for employees making less than $43,000 per year, and an increase of 1.5 percent for employees making more than that. Meanwhile, per Ontario’s 2021 Sunshine List, Ford makes $208,974 per year, up about 85.3 percent since 2018, and Education Minister Stephen Lecce makes $165,851.04 per year, up roughly 10.2 percent since 2019.
Alongside forcing an unlivable wage on education support workers, Bill 28 uses the notwithstanding clause to bypass the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and includes provisions to exempt it from the Human Rights Code. It also threatens fines of up to $4,000 per day to individuals and up to $500,000 per day to unions who don’t comply.
Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, the use of the notwithstanding clause to trample workers’ rights is shameful and establishes a concerning precedent.
How to stand with CUPE
There are a variety of ways to support CUPE and school support workers. CUPE hosts a picket line finder on its website to help Ontarians find and join protests.
For those who can’t join protests, there are other ways to voice support, such as contacting the MPP for your riding, Education Minister Lecce, or even Ford himself. You can find a full list of Ontario MPPs here — click the MPP for your riding to view details about them, including contact information. You can also view a list of all contact information for MPPs here. Ford’s contact information can be found here, while Lecce’s can be found here.
If you’re unsure what to say or write, the key things to include are your name and your displeasure at the anti-worker legislation. It’s also important not to be an asshole. Alternatively, CUPE and the Ontario Federation of Labour both offer pre-written letters — simply fill in your information and sign your name to have it sent to the appropriate MPP (these can also work as inspiration for your own letter if you prefer to go that route).
Finally, you can share support on social networks with the hashtag #IStandWithCUPE.