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CUPE ends protests; Ford promises to repeal Bill 28

CUPE education workers going back to work tomorrow morning
Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, speaks during a joint conference of Ontario and Canadian labour unions representing public sector and private sector workers following the province's announcement it would repeal Bill 28.

Leaders from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) have promised to stand down their protests in light of the provincial government's announcement this morning they will repeal Bill 28. 

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said Monday he is willing to rescind the legislation that imposed a contract on 55,000 education workers and banned them from striking, if the workers' union agrees to end a walkout that's shut many schools since Friday.

Ford said he is willing to be flexible and go back to the bargaining table, but CUPE education workers have to get back into the classroom.

Ford called it a "gesture of good faith" and CUPE responded with its own "gesture."

"We will be collapsing our protest sites starting tomorrow," said Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions. "We hope this ... is met with the same good faith by this government in a new proposal at the bargaining table as soon as possible. I will be clear, we're here waiting right now. Time is ticking." 

She confirmed CUPE workers will be "at work tomorrow morning," and the union will be back at the bargaining table. 

Union leaders representing public and private sector unions and millions of workers across Ontario and Canada held a joint press conference today to show their solidarity and joint opposition to Bill 28, which used the notwithstanding clause to override the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, end bargaining and impose a contract not agreed to by CUPE. 

"All Ontarians should be terrified of this abuse of our Charter rights," said JP Hornick, president of Ontario Public Services Employees Union (OPSEU). "180,000 members of OPSEU are not standing down, we are standing by." 

Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress, said the Premier and his government "made a very dangerous decision" by passing Bill 28 last week. 

"He ran through a law that would have grossly rammed through an unfair collective agreement on the lowest-paid education workers in this province," said Bruske. "He also wants to strip away legal protections that Canadian workers have had for many, many decades. The right to strike is an absolutely essential part of free and fair collective bargaining an under no circumstances will Canada's unions allow any premier to take that right away. 

Lana Payne, president of Unifor echoed the sentiment. 

"Not today, not tomorrow, not ever." 

CUPE president Mark Hancock called today's announcement an "unprecedented gathering of labour leaders." 

"Bill 28 was a direct threat to workers' rights and to the Charter rights of all Canadians, it invoked the notwithstanding clause to undermine some of our most fundamental rights," said Hancock. "Let's be clear, we're not done yet. There are 55,000 education workers here in Ontario who still need a fair deal that helps them make ends meet." 

Walton was asked about potential strike actions in the future. She said CUPE hoped to return to the bargaining table tonight, but that strike action was not off the table, since it's part of Canadian bargaining rights.

She said strike action would require a five-day notice. 

"We're not going into this with our eyes on [a strike], we're going into this with our eyes on getting a real deal," said Walton. "These workers need to be able to afford to go to work." 

School boards will ultimately make the decision whether schools reopen for in-person learning tomorrow, but Walton reiterated that CUPE workers will be on the job. 

Following CUPE's promise to collapse picket lines, Premier Ford's office sent a statement by education minister Stephen Lecce. 

"CUPE has agreed to withdraw their strike action and come back to the negotiating table. In return, at the earliest opportunity, we will revoke Bill 28 in its entirety and be at the table," stated Lecce. 

-With files from The Canadian Press

Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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