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CUPE members will return to school after Ford promises to rescind controversial strike legislation

Click to play video: 'Education worker strike ends after Ford government agrees to rescind legislation'
Education worker strike ends after Ford government agrees to rescind legislation
WATCH ABOVE: Ontario’s 55,000 education-support workers have agreed to end their strike after the Ford government promised to rescind controversial legislation that invoked the notwithstanding clause. Colin D’Mello reports – Nov 7, 2022

The union representing 55,000 education workers in Ontario says it will be “collapsing protest sites” on Tuesday after Premier Doug Ford promised to rescind controversial legislation that imposed a contract on them and impacted their ability to strike, and if they returned to the bargaining table.

“We will be collapsing protests sites starting tomorrow,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions.

“We hope that this gesture is met with the same good faith by this government in a new proposal at the bargaining table as soon as possible. And I will be clear we’re here waiting right now. The time is ticking.” Walton said.

Walton said CUPE members “will be at school tomorrow morning.”

Just hours before, Ford held a news conference urging the union to send its workers back to work with the promise to take Bill 28 off the table and re-negotiate a deal.

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“As a gesture of good faith, our government is willing to rescind the legislation,” Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference Monday morning.

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“We’re willing to rescind Section 33 but only if CUPE agrees to show a similar gesture of good faith by stopping their strike and letting our kids back into their classrooms,” Ford said.

Click to play video: 'Ontario Premier Ford willing to repeal education worker law if CUPE agrees to end walkout'
Ontario Premier Ford willing to repeal education worker law if CUPE agrees to end walkout

In a statement from Education Minister Stephen Lecce, he said since CUPE has agreed to withdraw their strike action and return to negotiations the government “will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and be at the table.”

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which represents 55,000 education workers in Ontario, rejected a deal from the province on Oct. 30 and issued a 5-day strike notice as part of a legal requirement.

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Last Monday, the province tabled Bill 28 that declared going on strike illegal and imposed a contract on CUPE workers, if passed. That bill was passed late Thursday after talks between the government and union had broken down earlier that day. Still, CUPE members initiated job action and went on strike Friday despite legislation that banned it from doing so.

Click to play video: 'CUPE agrees to end strike after Ford rescinds Bill 28: Union president'
CUPE agrees to end strike after Ford rescinds Bill 28: Union president

Walton said the union is still in a legal strike position, but that it would need to serve a new five-day notice if it intended to do so.

“We’re going into this not with our eyes on that, but with our eyes on getting a real deal,” she said.

The workers include custodians, educational assistants, administrative staff in schools, librarians and bus drivers.

The back-to-work legislation uses the “notwithstanding clause” to guard against constitutional challenges, and Ford said Monday he understands that is controversial.

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“As stewards of taxpayers dollars, we also have a responsibility to the entire province,” Ford said. “A deal with CUPE has massive impacts on broader public service salaries as well as the government’s ability to invest in services like health care, transit, education and hospital infrastructure, alongside other vital public services.”

Mass protests continued throughout the weekend and into Monday that forced many school boards to close schools again.

“Take strike action off the table, and let our kids back in class,” Ford said.

The Ontario Labour Relations Board is also set to rule on the legality of the walkout. CUPE had said the walkout was a form of legitimate political protest.

Meanwhile, Ford said he “doesn’t like” using the notwithstanding clause but said his government was “left with no option.”

“I have put in a massive olive branch,” Ford said.  “Eventually, this has to come to an end … We need them to come back and negotiate fairly like every other union in this country does.”

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CUPE was set to hold a news conference Monday morning. However, that was pushed back until at least noon after Ford issued his pledge.

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Global News had learned the delay was due to CUPE trying to get the Premier’s promise to repeal Bill 28 in writing and that the government was willing to put that in writing.

In CUPE’s press conference Monday, CUPE national president Mark Hancock announced that promise was confirmed. However, he did note that they don’t know exactly when the bill will be repealed but are hoping it is soon.

“We’ve shown that when our rights are under attack our movement is strong and that we will stand up for each other,” Hancock said.

— With files from The Canadian Press & Global News’ Isaac Callan & Colin D’Mello

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