Mass protests and widespread disruption — that’s what Ontario’s labour movement is promising, as multiple Canadian unions plan to take part in sympathetic strikes to protest Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 28.
Multiple sources told Global News a coalition of unions is planning a mass demonstration at Queen’s Park on Saturday, Nov. 12 and a massive multi-sector strike on Monday, Nov. 14.
The aim, sources said, was to bring the province to a standstill and apply maximum pressure on the Progressive Conservative government to repeal Bill 28, which invoked the notwithstanding clause to impose a contract on CUPE’s 55,000 education-support workers.
Labour leaders began gathering at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Toronto on Sunday, where they’re scheduled to hold a news conference at 10 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 7.
Among those slated to speak at the news conference are the presidents from CUPE, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Ontario Federation of Labour and the “leaders of private and public sector unions,” according to a news release.
The escalation in tensions began as contract talks between the Ford government and CUPE broke down on Oct. 30, leading to a strike notice from the union followed by unprecedented legislation from the province.
The government’s extraordinary measures to keep schools open, however, seems to have created a new confrontation with public and private sector unions, some of which supported the Ford government during June’s election but are now calling on the premier to rescind Bill 28.
On Friday, CUPE walked off the job claiming they were staging a “political protest” at MPPs’ offices and at Queen’s Park. The threat of the impending walk-off forced some school boards to shut down classrooms.
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On Saturday, CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn promised the initial job action was “just the beginning.”
“We will build resistance — we will bring others to this resistance, we will keep going,” Hahn said at a rally in Yonge and Dundas Square in Toronto.
Hahn said CUPE’s actions, including appealing to create a wider movement, would continue until the Ford government opted to repeal Bill 28.
At protracted talks held at the Ontario Labour Relations Board for four-straight days, lawyers for the Ford government and CUPE locked horns over whether the strike is an illegal action by union members – as outlined in the newly passed Bill 28.
The government said that whether CUPE called it a political protest or a strike, workers had attended picket lines instead of working on Friday and were therefore taking part in a wildcat strike.
A win for the Ford government would allow the province to fine CUPE up to half-a-million dollars per day, and union members up to $4,000 for every day that they strike.
CUPE officials told Global News that members would continue to strike on Monday, even if the labour relations boards determine the strike is illegal.
With potential penalties on the horizon, however, CUPE has been receiving an influx of cash from other labour groups in a show of financial solidarity.
So far the union has pulled in $1.1 million from two unions, including Unifor.
On Monday — when the press conference is scheduled to take place — more than 2,000 GO Transit bus drivers are also set to walk off the job after an unrelated contract negotiation with the provincial transit agency Metrolinx failed to yield a mutually agreed collective agreement.
The union has said that use of contract workers, in particular, and concerns about job security and safety have stalled the process.