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CUPE warns parents to prepare for school closures on Monday


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CUPE warns parents to prepare for school closures on Monday

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is advising parents to prepare to keep their children home from school again on Monday, when it will hold a press conference to discuss escalating its fight against the provincial government.

It is expected that CUPE and its labour partners will announce a massive labour rally at Queen’s Park on Saturday, with the threat of a broader, general strike on Nov. 14, according to Toronto Star sources, who said the job action was approved by the Ontario Federation of Labour at a weekend meeting of leaders.

“The OFL met yesterday (Saturday) and a motion passed” in support of CUPE, said a source.

Starting early Monday morning, the union plans to demonstrate at more than 120 locations across Ontario, including outside the constituency offices of many MPPs.

CUPE is also considering asking all of its members, except those working in medical or nuclear jobs, to walk the picket lines, according to sources close to the union.

The 55,000 CUPE school support workers withdrew their labour on Friday after the province passed Bill 28, the Keeping Students in Class Act, imposing a collective agreement and eliminating the workers’ right to strike.

“As much as we wish that we were talking about how we could actually find a different path we have no options but to talk about our next steps,” said CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn on Sunday.

As of 9 p.m. on Sunday evening, a tribunal of the Ontario Labour Relations Board had yet to release a decision on whether CUPE’s work stoppage is illegal.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce has repeatedly insisted the government passed the law because it is on the side of parents and wants to see children in school.

Hahn said that a labour board ruling won’t send custodians, library technicians, early childhood educators and education assistants back to school on Monday.

“Regardless of that ruling, our members have made a decision. We stand with them on that decision,” he said.

Hahn stressed that he understands the CUPE strike, which closed schools to students across the province on Friday, is difficult for parents and children. But CUPE is asking for their support in what it says is a fight to protect their charter rights in the future.

Among those standing with CUPE at its Monday press conference will be the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) that represents about 180,000 workers in colleges, hospitals, the LCBO and the public service. Its president JP Hornick said people can expect to see a concerted series of actions in supporting the CUPE workers, many of whom are vulnerable and are predominantly women.

“This kind of erosion of charter rights, paves the way for additional intrusions going forward,” she said.

“If we allow this to stand unchallenged we’re not on a slippery slope, we’re on an icy slope,” said Hornick.

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CUPE has also garnered support from outside Ontario, including a $1-million donation from the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation.

The union withdrew its work after the provincial government passed Bill 28 on Thursday, which imposed a collective agreement on the workers and removed their right to strike.

“Our members are now in a situation where their rights under the constitution have been legislated away from them and where they have an ordered collective agreement that condemns them to poverty. What that will mean is many will have to make difficult decisions about whether or not they stay doing those jobs,” he said.

In a statement on Sunday, the minister said, “We are doing everything possible and using every tool available to us to keep kids in the classroom.”

“We stand with parents who want their children to be in class, catch up after the past three years of pandemic disruptions and that’s exactly what we’ll continue to do,” he said.

Single mom Alice Romo says she’s angry with the government for not bargaining better with the workers. A doctoral student, she can work at home some of the time, but she also needs to attend meetings and labs at OISE.

She has been networking with other parents to arrange care for her Grade 4 daughter, who attends Howard Junior Public School in Toronto.

Romo says the situation is unsustainable.

“When there’s no school aftercare it affects me a lot. You have to rely on your network,” she said. “I’m not sure how other folks who are front-line will cope.”

Sara Marlowe, who has two children at Dewson Street Junior Public School in Toronto, says she is also scrambling to partner with other parents to share child care because she needs to work or lose her income while her 7-year-old daughter is home.

“We are taking it day-by-day to figure out what we are going to do,” said Marlowe.

But she said her kids won’t participate in virtual learning.

“When my seven year old daughter heard about the possibility of moving to online learning, she cried. That (pandemic) time was traumatizing for her. And besides that, it is completely ineffective,” she said.

She says her daughter began crying when she heard about the return to online learning.

“That (pandemic) time was traumatizing for her. Besides that, it is completely ineffective,” said Marlowe. She said she supports the CUPE workers for standing up to Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government.

“They have failed to bargain in good faith and pay the lowest paid education workers a living wage that isn’t eroded by inflation,” said Marlowe.

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