‘They’re wrong’: Union that supported Ford speaks out in defense of education workers

LiUNA, one of the unions that publicly endorsed the Ford government in the last elections, speaks out, as other unions band together in support of CUPE education workers. Tina Yazdani reports.

By Tina Yazdani and Lucas Casaletto

The labour union threw their support behind Doug Ford in the last election, but now, they are standing in stark opposition to what the government accomplished on Thursday, calling Bill 28 an attack on the fundamental freedoms of Canadians.

Education workers with The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) will begin what the union calls an indefinite strike that will shut many schools around the province after the government passed legislation Thursday imposing a contract on them. Bill 28 also bans a strike and threatens fines for those who don’t comply.

Not long ago, members of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the premier after the union publicly endorsed the government during the last provincial election.

LiUNA publicly posted a letter to the premier and Ontario’s education minister urging them to revoke the legislation they say erodes the rights of CUPE workers.

RELATED: CUPE says education workers to strike ‘until further notice’ starting Friday

“This is something that the union movement has fought so hard for, to earn and to protect, and it’s really unfortunate just to see it get legislated away so quickly,” said LiUNA spokesperson Victoria Mancinelli.

When asked if LiUNA would withdraw that endorsement, Mancinelli said it’s all about holding the Ford government responsible.

“When you endorse anybody, or you support and work with any party, that also comes with a responsibility to hold them accountable when they are wrong,” Mancinelli said. “And in this case, they are wrong. There’s no argument for that.”

Union members are expected to join picket lines in solidarity with education workers planning a strike Friday. One association says its workers will also be walking off the job for the day in an expression of support.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) said its 8,000 education workers would stage a walkout in solidarity with CUPE.

stephen lecce

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education for Ontario, makes an announcement. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), an umbrella group representing more than one million Ontario workers, is calling for the mass mobilization and support of education worker picket lines across the province, telling any members who can join to do so.

“They can trample on the rights of education workers; they can trample on the rights of every single one of us, and every one of us should be standing up and screaming,” said OFL President Patty Coates.

OPSEU president JP Hornick said the province’s legislation was undemocratic.

“I think that the Ford government picked a fight with a group of workers, primarily women, primarily the lowest paid people in the education sector and thought that he and Lecce would be able just to force them down,” she said, referring to Premier Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

“And what he did was the latest spark. And he can’t control where that goes.”

The big question is what this will mean for future negotiations with other education unions.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) has bargaining dates for their education workers to take place next week, and they are concerned about negotiating new contracts with the provincial government.

“Are we going to be able to bargain, or are we going to have legislation thrust upon us as well,” OSSTF President Karen Littlewood said. “This type of action being rushed through really is scary for everybody in the province and in the country.”

One labour expert tells CityNews the notwithstanding clause was never intended to be used in this manner. In Ontario, this is the first time it has been utilized in labour negotiations and the third time the Ford government has exploited this method.

“The normalization of this tool is concerning, and I hope people are paying attention to that,” said Charles Smith, author of Unions in Court. “What is the purpose of a bill of rights if it can so easily be pushed aside when a government doesn’t want to do something?”

Lecce defended his government’s use of the notwithstanding clause, saying it’s “an extraordinary measure for an extraordinary time,” saying after two years of disrupted learning, students must remain in class.

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