Education workers walk

Over 55,000 Ontario education workers, including early childhood educators, educational assistants and custodians, are set to walk off the job today. 

Driving the news: Last-ditch contract negotiations between the provincial government and the workers’ union broke down yesterday, setting the stage for a showdown between sides.

  • The province has rushed to introduce controversial new laws this week to make the strike illegal by invoking a legal mechanism known as the “notwithstanding clause” to override the workers’ Charter rights to strike and bargain collectively.
  • Despite each worker facing a potential $ 4,000-a-day fine for participating in the walkout, the union is moving ahead with the walkout, with hundreds of school boards across the province saying they will close classrooms or move to remote learning. 

Why it’s happening: The two sides can’t reach an agreement over pay raises, but the province argues classrooms must nonetheless remain open for the greater public good.

  • The union is asking for annual salary increases of 6% (down from an initial ~11%) for some of the lowest-paid employees in schools (who earn an average of $39,000 a year), but the province has so far refused to budge from its offer of a 1.5-2.5% raise.

Why it matters: It’s the first time the clause has been used to prevent a strike before it happens, and could set a precedent that undermines negotiation power for workers—without the threat of a strike on the table, labour loses its most important bargaining chip.