UPDATE: Province to repeal Bill 28, CUPE workers to leave picket lines

Premier Doug Ford. (File photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn Media)

Ontario’s 55,000 education workers will be back in schools across the province Tuesday.

The union representing early childhood educators, educational assistants, custodians, and clerical staff announced Monday afternoon that, as a gesture of good faith, it would end its work stoppage.

The decision to end the job action and return to the bargaining table came just hours after Premier Doug Ford said that if the union ended its walkout, he would rescind the legislation that imposed a contract on workers and made their strike illegal.

“We have received and can confirm that the premier will introduce and support legislation that will repeal Bill 28 in its entirety. This Bill will be repealed in a manner that ensures that the legislation will be deemed that it was never a law in Ontario in the first place,” Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario School Board Council of Unions President Laura Walton said at a news conference.

She went on to say the union would collapse its protest sites Tuesday.

“We hope 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 are here waiting right now. The time is ticking,” said Walton.

At his own news conference, Ford was asked if he wished he would have done anything differently last week and falsely accused CUPE of walking away from bargaining talks.

“Absolutely not. They’re the ones who called the strike. They’re the ones who walked away from the negotiating table,” claimed Ford. “We’re very flexible. It’s amazing that we can get deals with 98 per cent of other unions but we can’t with CUPE.” Despite Ford’s claims, it was the mediator that ended talks just before the strike.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce released a statement after CUPE announced the dismantling of picket lines.

“CUPE has agreed to withdraw their strike action and come back to the negotiating table,” he said. “In return, at the earliest opportunity, we will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and be at the table so that kids can return to the classroom after two difficult years. As we have always said and called for, kids need to be back in the classroom, where they belong.”

The province tabled Bill 28 last Monday and it passed late Thursday after the mediator ended talks as the two sides remained at an impasse. Despite the controversial legislation that used the notwithstanding clause to prevent constitutional challenges, CUPE workers walked off the job on Friday.

Walton confirmed the union received written confirmation that Bill 28 would be repealed. Although, it is unclear when that will officially happen as the legislature is not currently sitting.

“We have not used our leverage. Our leverage is not a one and done,” reassured Walton. “Worker power remains and it builds every single day. We need to be clear to this government that this is just the beginning… We are going back to the table with open minds, open hearts and we are ready to negotiate and we call on the government to do the same.”

Walton confirmed that if talks don’t move forward it would be within the union’s legal right to issue a five-day strike notice.

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

The last offer the union received from the Ford government was for a four-year deal that included a 2.5 per cent yearly raise for workers earning less than $43,000 annually and a 1.5 per cent pay boost annually for all others. CUPE had previously asked for a 11.7 per cent wage increase, which works out to roughly an extra $3.25. an hour. As well as five more paid days leading into each school year and 30 minutes of paid prep time.

**with files from Kate Stockmann and Scott Kitching