Unions Unite – Government to Repeal Bill 28
On November 7, representatives of many Ontario and national unions held a press conference. The press conference was originally set to announce an escalation in the opposition to the Keeping Students in Class Act, passed by the Ontario government however, earlier in the day, the government announced, and had committed in writing, that it was repealing the legislation in its entirety and, in fact, Bill 28 would be deemed to have never been enacted into law. This commitment to repeal the legislation was then addressed by the speakers at the press conference.
Mark Hancock, President of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) National, opened the meeting and said that he was joined by CUPE leaders from across the country. He also recognized leaders from Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Canada, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), l’Association des enseignates et enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), United Steel Workers (USW), United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), UNIFOR, Ontario Building Trades, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Sheet Metal Workers, International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Ontario Public Sector Employees Union (OPSEU), Ontario Nurses Association (ONA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU)-Healthcare, Canadian Office and Professional Employees (COPE), Society of United Professionals (SUP) and the Toronto York Regional Labour Council; all representing millions of private and public sector workers across the country.
Hancock stated the gathering was unprecedented because of the Ontario government’s attack on the rights and a direct threat to the charter rights of all Canadians. He explained that the attack united the labour movement like never before and that Ontario Premier, Doug Ford’s decision to rescind the legislation demonstrated the power of private and public sector union solidarity, that when workers’ rights are under attack, the labour movement will stand up for each other.
CUPE-Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU) President, Laura Walton, then spoke thanking the education workers currently on the demonstration lines. She reiterated that her union never left the bargaining table, something the government has repeatedly misled the public about. She then formally announced that Ford was forced to put in writing a commitment that his government would repeal Bill 28 in a manner that ensures that it will be deemed that it was never a law in Ontario in the first place. This was met with resounding applause. As a gesture of good faith she said, CUPE-OSBCU would be collapsing the protest sites starting tomorrow and were looking forward to negotiating right away with the government. She made it clear however, that CUPE-OSBCU would not give up their right to strike in the future if the government does not negotiate in a serious manner that addresses the workers’ needs. When asked when the government would repeal the legislation, a CUPE representative indicated that no date had been set, but that Ford had spoken with the NDP to get agreement to recall the legislature.
Walton explained that this started because the Ford government didn’t want to pay the lowest paid workers a living wage, workers who had been legislated into poverty. She also explained that the government didn’t recognize that it is the education workers themselves who know the conditions in the schools and have used their power to fight back. She stated that it was the actions of the workers that forced the government to back down and that, with this fight, people are recognizing that they have a voice and that they don’t have to accept being silenced.
CLC President, Bea Bruske, said Ford made a dangerous decision with Bill 28 and that, under no circumstances, will workers allow any premier to take workers’ rights away. She also said that Ford imposed this legislation knowing the economy was in peril, when parents and students would be scrambling. Burke said she is glad Ford walked back the legislation, but that he needs to put his money where his mouth is. She also said that the response from the workers in Ontario against the attack on their rights was matched by workers across the country and that Canada’s unions are ready to come back and rally once again and do what it takes to get an acceptable collective agreement for CUPE-OSBCU members.
ETFO President, Karen Brown, said that there is no doubt, ETFO won’t stand by and watch the government strip constitutionally protected rights for the inconvenience of negotiations. The law was an unprecedented attack she said and her members and the people of Ontario will hold Ford to his word to rescind the legislation.
Unifor President Lana Payne congratulated the education workers for their heart, courage and resolve and thanked CUPE-OSBCU President Laura Walton for her fierce and relentless leadership. She explained that the bargaining table is the only place where the negotiation will be settled and reiterated that Bill 28 represents an outrageous and unprecedented attack on workers’ rights that, as a labour movement, workers were prepared to respond with an unprecedented response. She stated that if rights can be taken away without recourse, then no one’s rights are safe and that, should Bill 28 have been allowed to pass, it could have been used in other provinces as other conservative premiers were watching closely what is happening in Ontario. On the unity of the workers in Ontario, she said workers made it clear that they will not tolerate the weaponizing of the notwithstanding clause to strip away rights. “Not today, not tomorrow, not ever,” she said. She also informed that the day previous, Unifor’s national executive board decided to take whatever action was needed to defeat Bill 28, adding that Unifor will be with CUPE education workers every step of the way.
OPSEU President, JP Hornick, said the repeal of the bill was good, but that 180,000 OPSEU members are standing by, not standing down. Hornick explained OPSEU will make sure that the promise to repeal is kept and that OPSEU is in this fight until a deal is reached for education workers, teachers and workers across the province, including those in ATU [who began a strike in Toronto the same day]. She explained that the significance of private and public sector unions standing together was that Bill 28 was an attack on workers and democracy and that all Ontarians should be joining labour to hold the Ford government accountable. She said the government will continue to try and divide and conquer workers, as was shown in the government’s press conference, earlier in the day but that workers are the majority and are where the power resides in the province. She also stated that when the government comes for one worker they come for all workers. Hornick ended her speech by saying “the workers, united, will shut this province whenever we need to.”
During the media question and answer portion of the press conference, some members of the media attempted to impose divisions on the workers’ unions by asking that the unions that had supported or endorsed Ford during the 2022 elections address that now. Both Hancock and Walton did not permit that discussion to take place, emphasizing that what is important is that when CUPE-OSBCU needed the members of the labour movement in Ontario, they came. This set a unifying tone for the battles that lie ahead.