‘This unprecedented attack is disgusting’ Sarnia-Lambton CUPE members rally

CUPE rally outside of MPP Bob Bailey's office. November 4, 2022. (Photo by Natalia Vega, Blackburn Media)

Hundreds gathered outside of MPP Bob Bailey’s office in Point Edward on Friday to stand in solidarity with education support workers.

Mediated talks between the provincial government and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) collapsed on Thursday, at which point Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the use of the Notwithstanding Clause of the Constitution.

CUPE National Staff Representative Jennifer Barnett waved a large CUPE flag at Friday’s rally.

She said it was great to have the support from so many people, which included members of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), and United Steelworkers union.

Members of other unions support CUPE during Friday’s rally. November 4, 2022. (Photo by Natalia Vega)

“This attack is on all unions. It happens to be CUPE right now but it will be everyone at some point,” said Barnett.

“CUPE has said to members that we’re out here, we’re peaceful, we’re not disruptive, we’re not agitating, we’re just trying to show everyone that this unprecedented attack is disgusting and horrible. Regardless of what you pass, you can’t ignore these people.”

Lecce has said the government plans to “use every tool available” to keep schools open, which includes the possible use of fines.

Barnett said that is a concern but members plan to strike as long as it takes for the government to go back to the bargaining table with a fair deal.

“We have members of ours who use food banks on a regular basis, we have people who can’t put gas in their car to get to work,” said Barnett.

“Are we afraid of fines? Yeah, $4,000 is excessive and $500,000 to unions who participate, this is crazy!”

Custodian Kim Macgregor spoke with Sarnia News Today and said she had a feeling they would end up picketing on Friday based on how discussions went earlier this week.

“We deserve more than what they’re willing to give us, 1.5 per cent is just a slap in the face,” she said.

Rally held outside of MPP Bob Bailey’s office. November 4, 2022. (Photo by Natalia Vega)

CUPE asked for an across the board, $3.25 an hour raise in each year of a four-year contract.

The government originally offered annual raises of two per for workers who make less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all others. However, under the newly imposed four-year contract, workers who make less than $43,000 would receive a 2.5 per cent annual raise and all others would receive 1.5 per cent.

If the strike continues into next week, the St. Clair Catholic District School Board wil have students transition to virtual learning. A letter was issued Friday afternoon, with steps moving forward on the assumption that the labour dispute continues into next week. The letter can be found by clicking here. 

The Lambton Kent District School Board issued a letter shortly before 4 p.m., with plans for students to move to asynchronous remote learning.

“Asynchronous lessons do not include a live component and can be completed when students are available to access the lessons,” read the LKDSB letter. “Teachers will notify students of when they will be available for live support daily.”

Conseil Scolaire Viamonde said it will make a decision over the weekend about what will happen next week, and schools within the Conseil Scolaire Catholique Providence are moving to remote learning for the time being.

On Friday, the provincial government announced it is seeking to have the walkout declared illegal by the Ontario Labour Relations Board.

Sarnia News Today reached out to MPP Bailey’s office for comment but did not receive a response at the time of publication.

-With files from Josh Boyce and Scott Kitching