ETFO President Karen Brown
Photo by Christine Cousins
ARTICLE

Our Solidarity and Commitment to One Another Can't Be Defeated

Karen Brown

It’s been an eventful few months for the education sector and the labour community in Ontario and I want to begin by saying thank you. Thank for your solidarity, your hard work in the classroom and your commitment to Ontario’s public schools. ETFO entered this round of collective bargaining with the hope that despite our differences with the Ford Conservative government, and despite the government’s record of consistently underfunding public education, we could find a way to negotiate collective agreements that are fair to our members and protect our students and our public schools. But from the beginning, the government has been intent on undermining public education, ignoring the call for decent wages from the sector’s lowest paid education workers and giving parents one-time payments instead of investing in the resources and supports our public schools need.

ETFO is committed to bargaining the best possible contracts for our members while continuing to organize with labour and community allies to push for paid sick days for all, investment in public services and the protection of our collective bargaining and democratic rights in Ontario. On October 31, the Ford government tabled legislation that imposed a contract on CUPE education workers who were fighting for a fair deal. The government fast-tracked the legislation and invoked the notwithstanding clause of the Charter to shield it from legal challenges.

Bill 28, the Keeping Students in School Act, was an unprecedented attack on collective bargaining rights, the likes of which had not been seen in Ontario’s history. Bill 28 overrode CUPE members’ constitutional right to free collective bargaining and their right to strike, and it denied them protections provided by Ontario’s Human Rights Code. Rather than negotiating in good faith with CUPE, the Ford government decided to impose a contract and trample over workers’ rights.

ETFO and other public and private sector unions immediately rallied not only to defend CUPE members, but to defend the collective bargaining and democratic rights of all Ontarians. What would stop this government from using the notwithstanding clause again to undermine other rights protected by the Charter and the Human Rights Code. Faced with a united movement and the prospect of a general strike, Ford buckled and repealed the bill.

Had the labour community and our allies not stood up in steadfast solidarity to defend our constitutional rights, the Ford government would have gotten away with it. The strength, power and unity of labour and community groups should never be underestimated and the repeal of this bill shows that we will not be defeated if we stand united in our solidarity and our commitment to justice.

Another major victory for ETFO and other unions this year was our successful legal challenge against Bill 124. Introduced in the midst of contract negotiations in 2019, Bill 124 imposed a one per cent cap on wage increases for three years for public sector workers, including ETFO members. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that Bill 124 was unconstitutional and violated workers’ collective bargaining rights. While the government has indicated it will appeal the court’s ruling, this is an important victory for workers, and another setback for the Ford government.

As we begin the new year, I want to assure you that we will continue bargaining in good faith, not only for our members, but for the improvements and investments our public schools need. Smaller classes, adequate supports for special education needs and the resources to ensure all Ontario students are set up for success are central to what we are bargaining for. This government has proven that it will not hesitate to override the democratic rights of Ontarians, but we have shown that our solidarity and commitment to one another will not defeated.

Wishing you all the best in the New Year.

– Karen Brown