Schools reopen today after CUPE calls off strike; bargaining resumes

The province says they will repeal Bill 28 and CUPE will end the strike in favour of going back to the bargaining table. It's not clear when that will take place. Richard Southern reports.

More than 50,000 Ontario education workers are back on the job today — and now begins the effort to make sure they stay there.

Contract talks between the province and the union representing school support staff are set to resume Tuesday morning after the Ford government backed off its legislation forcing a contract on the workers.

“(Workers) took on the Ford government and the government blinked,” said CUPE national president Mark Hancock.

Hancock made the announcement on a stage filled with more than a dozen leaders of other public- and private-sector unions, including the four major teachers’ unions, steel workers, postal workers, Unifor, and the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union.

Premier Doug Ford said earlier Monday his government would be willing to repeal the back-to-work legislation and stop the use of the notwithstanding clause if the union agreed to call off their ongoing job action.

Union officials said they received confirmation in writing that the province would follow through with rescinding Bill 28 in its entirety if they ended their strike. Education Minister Stephen Lecce confirmed the province would repeal the bill shortly after CUPE agreed to withdraw their job action.

“At the earliest opportunity, we will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and be at the (bargaining) table,” reads Lecce’s statement.

Ford will hold a media availability Tuesday at 9 a.m. alongside Lecce.

The province controversially included the notwithstanding clause in its legislation that banned strikes and imposed a four-year contract on union members, saying it intended to use the clause to guard against constitutional challenges.

CUPE maintained its job action was a form of legitimate political protest in response to the historic bill passed on Thursday that imposes a contract on them by overriding certain charter rights.

The workers walked off the job on Friday despite the law banning them from doing so, and the government had taken them to the Ontario Labour Relations Board on the legality of the job action – a board ruling is pending.

The job action forced most Ontario schools to pivot to virtual learning after closing their doors on Friday. Most boards intended to keep schools closed for in-person learning for the duration of the work stoppage.

Several school boards in the GTA have confirmed that schools will reopen for in-person learning on Tuesday.

Ford tweeted he was glad the strike action was over “so kids can return to class.”

“We’ll be back at the table to negotiate a fair deal for students, parents, workers and taxpayers,” Ford says.

Back to the bargaining table

With the province in the process of repealing Bill 28 it means a contract is no longer imposed on CUPE members and the union says it stands ready to strike again if talks don’t go in the direction they like.

CUPE tells CityNews that bargaining will resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning through a mediator.

“We have our bargaining rights back” said Laura Walton, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE’s) Ontario School Board Council of Unions.

Walton says she hopes the union’s gesture of “good faith” is met with similar good faith by the government at the bargaining table.

“We need to be at the bargaining table. We’re here, we’re ready to go.”

Related: Big Story podcast: Inside Ontario’s ‘unprecedented’ labour fight

The union had been seeking an annual salary increase of about 11.7 per cent. Ford remained steadfast on Monday that the province does not have the funding to agree to what the union is asking.

“The taxpayers of Ontario are paying their wages,” Ford said, speaking to reporters at Queen’s Park on Monday morning. “I have to make sure I’m a prudent and fiscal manager of the taxpayer’s money.”

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns said he didn’t believe Ford’s “olive branch” was reason enough to end the strike.

“At this point, they are protesting against a government that has outrageously refused to negotiate with them and actually try and get a settlement,” he said. “If the education workers aren’t going to be back in school I think the pressure on the premier is going to be huge to actually make things happen.

CUPE’s joint news conference on Monday included members of the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour, and leaders of other private and public sector unions. Two separate union sources confirmed to CityNews on Sunday, before Ford’s concession to rescind Bill 28, that there was a plan in place to call for a general strike in Ontario.

With files from The Canadian Press

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