By Lily Canete-Goodine
With the support of most of their 55,000 associated education workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has decided to strike on November 4, 2022. Weeks of failed talks and high tension with the provincial government have led to this decision with much controversy. The education workers affected by this motion include custodians, teaching assistants, early childhood educators, and other staff that work behind the scenes to help the schools run smoothly.
Some of CUPE’s demands include increased salary and overtime pay, partially paid prep time, more benefits, and more PA days. However, after weeks of negotiating, Ford’s provincial government has only agreed to raise salaries by 2.5% yearly for those earning under $40,000 and 1.5% for everyone else. These percentages are a far cry from the union’s request of 11.3%. Furthermore, the government doesn’t plan to expand on any of the union’s other wishes and instead has passed a law to stop the workers from striking.
The law in question is Bill 28, or the “Keeping Students in Class Act.” It effectively prohibits CUPE’s education workers from striking on the threat of excessive fines. Technically, the bill violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but the government has used the “notwithstanding clause” to bypass it.
Despite this, CUPE’s education workers have decided to push through with their strike and will continue as long as the bill remains in place.
As a result of the walkouts, some school boards in the province, including the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), have made plans to cancel in-person school for November 4 and weeks after that. Warning that “maintaining a normal routine will be very difficult,” the TDSB has decided to pursue virtual school for the remainder of the strike.
Here at Harbord, students had lots to say about the news. In response to the possibility of school closures in the TDSB, concerns about online schooling’s impact on mental health were echoed by many students.
“I would be very upset if the TDSB resorted to online learning. I find it significantly harder to ask questions, keep focus, and complete work without [having] direct support from a teacher in the classroom,” explained Claire Wilson, a grade 10 Harbord student.
Similarly, fellow Harbord student, Sofie Kagan, added, “Online school is bad for youths’ mental health and negatively impacts their ability to thrive and succeed in school.”
However, when questioned about whether the strike should happen, Harbord students’ opinions were divided.
“I wish Doug Ford would just give the CUPE workers their deserved raise,” said Giselle Schilling, a grade 10 student at Harbord. “I do not want to go online… but I’m willing to fight with the union so they get the respect they deserve.”
In contrast, Kimberly Wu responded, “I don’t think Ontario education workers should have a strike [because] this is your job… you are paid to do this.”
Meanwhile, Harbord grade 10, Zoey Yagnik-Bazos, stood somewhere in the middle.
“[Strikes] can be bad for students… and hurt [academic] performance,” she explained. “That being said, I think strikes can be good if there’s a plan and the government responds back. If the government does nothing to negotiate, then the strike can last for months. That’s when it’s really dangerous for students.”
As negotiations between CUPE and the government develop, Harbord students must continue to stay engaged and informed. This strike is an ongoing issue and is subject to change at any moment. Students, families, and educators alike will have to wait and see whether or not a compromise can be reached and what that might mean for everyone here at Harbord.
Note: As of this writing, talks between the education workers’ union and the government are still evolving. Developments that have occurred after this may not be included.