Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Notwithstanding the Need for Workers to make a Living Wage…


Doug Ford thought he could bully education workers into taking a poverty wage – 2.5% for those making under $43,000 and 1.5% for those making over. Trouble was, the average wage of school custodians, teachers’ assistants and office staff is $39,000. That’s below a Living Wage anywhere in Ontario, especially in Toronto. And inflation is running about 6 or 7%, so the Conservatives’ ‘increase’ would actually be a cut.

Through their union, CUPE, workers said ‘no’. So the Premier began the name calling (“greedy unions”) and the misinformation (“they’re asking for 50% more”) and the back-to-work legislation. And, just to be sure the union got the message (and his butt protected in a court battle) he threw in the Notwithstanding Clause of the Constitution.

That clause is essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card for governments who want to override citizens’ Charter rights … ‘notwithstanding that collective bargaining is a right protected by the freedom of association section of the Charter (as the Supreme Court has found), we will curb your right in this instance because we can.’

I think that was the final straw. Suddenly the Premier was faced with union solidarity. Support and pledges from other unions to help CUPE cope with the hefty fines ($500,000 for CUPE and $4,000 per member per day) that would be levied through the back-to-work legislation.

That and the growing threat of a general strike that would include members from the private unions he curried favour from during the election. Mr Ford was no longer the working man’s friend (not that he ever was).

He blinked. Bill 28, complete with the Notwithstanding Clause will be rescinded. CUPE members are going back to work. Negotiations will resume and we can only hope that these will be done in good faith.

The lesson from all this is that there is strength in unity and unionized workers can make their voices heard loud and clear. But I worry about the workers without a union who are at the mercy of whatever the boss decides to give them. I also worry about how easy it was for Mr. Ford to override the Constitutional rights of 55,000 citizens.

Makes you wonder, who’s next?

David McLaren



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