November 6, 2022

The Broken Democratic Contract: Doug Ford versus Lowest Paid Education Workers

I am watching the livestream of oral arguments at the Ontario Labour Relations Board this morning as the Government of Ontario seeks an order from the Board that Ontario's lowest-paid education workers are engaged in an illegal strike.

Presently, the government lawyer is arguing that CUPE's ongoing strike is a "mid-contract" withdrawal of services.

The lawyer argues there is a collective agreement in place, albeit imposed by government legislation and not free negotiation. Thus, he argues, CUPE workers cannot conduct a "mid-contract strike."

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Minister of Education Stephen Leece invoked our Constitution's "nuclear option", the "notwithstanding" clause in Section 33 of the Charter, to override the workers' rights and prohibit them from using the courts to seek recourse.

The government's lawyer argues the labour bargain is that workers gain benefits, such as the right to access grievance, during a contract. In return, as part of the bargain, workers cannot strike because they no longer like parts of their contract.

There are many more arguments being advanced, I'm going to discuss the historic compromise between labour and business.

Doug Ford and Stephen Leece have broken the compromise bargain by using Section 33.

They preempted a legal strike by imposing a contract.

Governments can, and regularly do, impose back-to-work legislation for various reasons.

Even when imposing back-to-work legislation, until recent years, governments did not impose final contracts - they impose arbitration.

These workers only make an average of $39,000 per year, which is not even a living wage in the GTHA.

They are seeing their wages diminished even further by inflation. The government is imposing an effective pay cut by imposing salary increases which are below the rate of inflation.

With no recourse, with their democratic rights taken away from them, Ontario's lowest-paid education workers are out on the street picketing.

"Legal" or "illegal", the workers are in the right.