Local educational workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), other union members and supporters are on the picket lines.
They’re set up Friday in Sturgeon Falls, North Bay and Powassan.
The walkout comes after contract talks with the provincial government broke down this week with the mediator saying the two sides are still far apart.
The strike, involving 55,000 CUPE members across the province, also comes despite legislation that imposes a contract on the workers and makes the walkout illegal.
“The message on day one is the attack on our civil liberties and rights is unacceptable,” says Trevor Russell, President of CUPE Local 1165. “We can’t allow them to hinder, with legislation, our right to collective bargaining.”
He says the government using the notwithstanding clause should be a telling sign for other unions.
“It absolutely should,” he says. “If they can remove those rights for us they’re not going to stop there.”
Several unions joined CUPE members on the picket line outside Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli’s office in North Bay.
“We’re out here because Bill 28 is unconstitutional, it violates the Charter,” says Rob Boulet, OPSEU Executive Board Member. “Using that notwithstanding clause just overrides all kinds of workers’ rights in collective bargaining but it’s also Canadian rights.”
Troy Simkins is the OSSTF President who represents Educational Assistants, Early Childhood Educators and other professionals at the Near North District School Board.
He says the wage gap keeps getting larger and larger.
“Locally, our average wage for our ECEs and EAs is probably somewhere around $36,000 or $37,000 a year,” he says. “A lot of my members have to have second jobs just to live. I know that’s been a message that CUPE has said, and it’s true, unfortunately.”
Education Minister Stephen Lecce issued a response Friday morning to CUPE’s strike action.
“Immediately following proclamation of the Keeping Students in Class Act, we filed a submission to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in response to CUPE’s illegal strike action,” he says. “Proceedings started last night (Thursday) and will continue today (Friday).”
Lecce says nothing matters more right now than getting all students back in the classroom.
He reiterated that the province will use every tool available to them to do so.
**With files from Norman Jack