‘Don’t force my hand’; Ford, at Hamilton visit, addresses education workers who voted in favour of strike

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Published October 6, 2022 at 1:20 pm

Hamilton East—Stoney Creek MPP Neil Lumsden, foreground, and Premier Doug Ford. (YouTube)

Days after Ontario education workers gave their union a strike mandate, Premier Doug Ford is telling them not to force his hand.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees announced earlier this week that its members, such as early childhood educators, custodians and administration staff, voted 96.5 per cent in favour of a strike. All contracts with teacher unions expired at the end of August, and the premier said the teacher unions want a “50 per cent” raise, which he said is “not realistic.”

No teacher union has held a strike vote. But Ford, who was in Hamilton for a news conference to announce the construction of the Confedration GO Station, was asked directly if he would legislate them back to work in the event of a stoppage.

“There’s one thing that we’ve said right from the beginning, we don’t want any disruptions in the school,” Ford said. “We want to make sure that the students have a good experience, along with the certainty for the parents. So, I’m asking, to the unions, the teachers’ unions, please don’t go on strike. Don’t force my hand. Just please, you know, continue negotiating, because I’m a strong believer in negotiating but do not, uh, do not go on strike.”

CUPE is set to bargain today and Friday with the government and the union has said the two days of talks would be key in determining next steps.

The government has offered below-the-inflation-rate raises of 2 per cent a year for workers making less than $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for all other workers, while CUPE is looking for annual increases of 11.7 per cent. Ford was asked how his appreciation of how dedicated teachers and education workers are to their jobs and to students translates in terms of financial compensation, amid a 30-year high in inflation.

“I think we’re being very fair,” Ford said. “I’m not gonna get into the weeds on negotiations. But we’ve put 8 per cent over four years on the table (for CUPE). I think that’s fair. Teachers’ union want 50 per cent. Everyone knows that’s not realistic. We’re gonna negotiate fairly, treat everyone fairly and give the kids an opportunity to stay in school without interruptions, with extra-curriculars. I just wanna thank the teachers for the great job they do and thank the teachers as well.”

While calling for a fair negotiation, the premier asked unions not to exercise something they have a legal right to use in order to show management they are serious about their goals.

“All I’m asking is please don’t go on strike,” he said.

Teacher union collective agreements will soon come up for negotiation with the province. Teachers’ participation in extra-curricular activities are voluntary and are not part of collective bargaining.

A 2-per-cent raise, in real dollars, arguably represents a pay decrease. The current Canadian inflation rate is 6.8 per cent, which is the highest level since the early 1990s. It has fluctuated from 4.7 and 8.1 over the last 11 months.

CUPE has said the government’s offer amounts to an extra $800 a year for the average worker.

Ontario students spent more time in remote learning than their counterparts in every Canadian and U.S. jurisdiction during the more serious stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ontario Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said in March that masking was not required in schools, although local medical officers of health and school boards have power to make those decisions. Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board was the only board that kept its policy until April, before bowing to public pressure.

The Hamilton area’s two Ontario PC Party members of provincial parliament, Tourism and Sport Minister Neil Lumsden (Hamilton East—Stoney Creek) and backbencher Donna Skelly (Flamborough—Glanbrook), also attended the announcement. Outgoing Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger was also on hand.

The city’s other two MPPs are both members of the Ontario New Democratic Party. The Hamilton Centre seat is vacant now that former NDP leader Andrea Horwath is running to be Hamilton’s mayor.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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