Ford government to table legislation to impose contract on education sector union

The Ford government will introduce legislation on Monday to impose a four-year contract on thousands of education support workers in order to avoid a strike — a move that will likely trigger a court challenge by the union.

The dramatic escalation in the months-long contract negotiations came after the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents 55,000 custodians, clerical staff, librarians, and early childhood educators, gave the government its notice to strike on Friday, Nov. 4.

CUPE’s Laura Walton characterized the offer as an “ultimatum” from the Ford government after months of negotiations.

The government’s latest offer, which will now be legally imposed on union workers, would give employees earning less than $43,000 a 2.5 per cent salary increase per year, while those earning above $43,000 would receive a 1.5 per cent yearly increase in pay.

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That is a slight increase from the previous offer, which was 1.25 per cent for those making over $40,000 and 2.0 per cent for those making below that.

CUPE asked the government for an 11 per cent increase in wages, citing the high cost of living and historically low pay.

In a statement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the government presented a “generous” offer and was going to follow through on a promise to keep students in class.

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“Because CUPE refuses to withdraw their intent to strike, in order to avoid shutting down classes we will have no other choice but to introduce legislation tomorrow, which will ensure that students remain in-class to catch up on their learning,” Lecce said.

The union, however, is warning the government it could end up in court over the legislation and questions whether the government negotiated in good faith.

“They had the legislation all drawn up, which proves they had no intention of negotiating fairly with education workers,” Walton said at a late Sunday news conference.

While Lecce has been warning for weeks that government wouldn’t allow a strike to proceed given several years of school disruptions due to COVID-19, the Minister always maintained his mandate from the Premier was to reach a negotiated settlement with the union.

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But as contract talks stalled, the government shifted its tone and focused more on preventing a strike rather than being able to reach a deal.

The legislation, set to be tabled at 1 p.m. Monday, is also a “signal” to teachers’ unions, a source said, which are still in the early stages of bargaining with the government.

“Our intentions are clear,” the source said of the government’s plans of imposing contracts on other education-sector unions.

By imposing a contract, Premier Doug Ford will be copying former-premier Dalton McGuinty’s work from 2012, when the Ontario Liberals imposed a contract on teachers’ unions ahead of a strike.

Bill 115, Putting Students First Act, froze wages and limited union members’ right to strike, triggering a court challenge by five education sector unions.

An Ontario Superior Court judge later ruled that Bill 115 “substantially interfered with meaningful collective bargaining” and that the process of imposing a contract was “fundamentally flawed.”

“It could not, by its design, provide meaningful collective bargaining. Ontario, on its own, devised a process. It set the parameters which would allow it to meet fiscal restraints it determined and then set a program which limited the ability of the other parties to take part in a meaningful way,” Judge Thomas Lederer wrote in a 2016 judgment.

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Earlier this year the Elementary Teachers Federation was awarded a $103-million “remedy” to distribute to former and current members of the union.

Once the Ford government tables the legislation they will have just four days to pass the legislation, in order to avoid CUPE’s province-wide strike currently scheduled for Nov. 4.

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