Ontario seeks to have education workers’ strike declared illegal

Thousands of education workers walked off the job on Friday

Ontario’s government has asked the province’s labour relations board to declare a walkout by education workers illegal and actions by union leaders unlawful, while seeking to have any strike activity ceased. 

The province’s submissions to the Ontario Labour Relations Board came as thousands of education workers walked off the job Friday to protest the government passing legislation that banned strikes and imposed a four-year contract.

The job action has closed many schools to in-person learning across Ontario. 

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The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents the 55,000 education workers who walked off the job, has said the action will continue indefinitely.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce filed an application against CUPE with the labour board on Thursday, with a hearing set for Friday afternoon.

“Nothing matters more right now than getting all students back in the classroom and we will use every tool available to us to do so,” Lecce wrote in a statement Friday.

The minister alleges the union has “called or authorized or threatened to call or authorize an unlawful strike,” documents filed with the board show.

The province also alleges that Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, “counselled, procured, supported, authorized, threatened, or encouraged an unlawful strike.”

They allege the same against Fred Hahn, the president of CUPE Ontario. 

CUPE said it is fighting the application.

“CUPE’s legal counsel will be there to argue for our members’ right to protest the Ford government’s unconstitutional law, which strips workers of their fundamental rights,” said the union’s national president, Mark Hancock. 

The government’s new law has set fines for violating the ban on strikes of up to $4,000 per employee per day – which could amount to $220 million for all 55,000 workers – and up to $500,000 per day for the union. 

CUPE has said it will fight the fines, but will also pay them if it has to.

The Progressive Conservative government included the notwithstanding clause in its legislation, saying it intends to use it to guard against constitutional challenges.

CUPE education workers and their supporters gathered at several protests across the province on Friday, including outside the legislature in Toronto.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 4, 2022