Education workers with the Candian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) gathered outside Progressive Conservative Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) Ric Bresee’s office in Napanee on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022 to show their frustration with the provincial government.
Hundreds of demonstrators made the 113 East Street constituency office the epicentre of the protest, which also spread down Dundas Street, the main downtown thoroughfare. CUPE workers were joined by supporters from other unions, such as the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU), Unifor, and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), as well as nurses, concerned parents, grandparents, and students.
On Thursday, Nov. 3, 2022, the PC government enacted Bill 28, also called the Keeping Students in Class Act, which imposed contracts on 55,000 CUPE members and banned them from striking, a move that OPSEU 417 College Faculty (CAAT-A) member Tabatha Rutledge called “an attack on all workers.” Rutledge said she and her fellow members were in complete solidarity with the CUPE workers.
Amanda Ruttan of CUPE shared her frustration with the government and pointed to the irony that she is also a working mother who has to find work outside the school system to afford to raise her children.
“I’m an Educational Assistant,” Ruttan explained with emotion, “and I also work three other jobs to pay the bills, and still I am short every month. I have two children that have gone through Limestone [District School Board]… My kids are wonderful and do everything they are supposed to do at school, but my job doesn’t pay enough for them.”
Kathleen Brooks, President of Unifor Local 8300, expressed her thoughts on behalf of that union: “Unifor is here to support in solidarity the education workers in their effort to bargain a fair collective agreement and go back to work, where they want to be.”
Retired registered nurse Sue Munro said she was disappointed that neither Bresee nor his staff were on hand to listen to the concerned workers.
“We showed up and he didn’t. The doors are locked, and his [employees] aren’t there working,” she stated. ”[Bresee] wants to take away the rights of taxpaying CUPE members and protect taxpayers’ dollars from these educators, but our tax dollars are going to pay for his people who are absent from the job today. There is no reason for them not to be here; this is a peaceful protest.”
Munro also criticized Doug Ford and noted, “I’m seeing him dismantle our health-care system so that we have no nurses left. We’ve been begging him to put more nurses through school, open spaces [for nursing students] — deaf ears. He’s ruining the health-care system, and now he’s going after education.”
As Aretha Franklin’s song ‘Respect’ began to play over a loudspeaker, Ruttan took to a megaphone, encouraging everyone to sing along. Then she expressed her frustration, as well as her admiration for her colleagues and the work they do: “I heard people on the line today say they are out here supporting us in droves because Ford does not stand for parents. We are parents, we are workers in your schools, on the line for your kids. If he can do this to our union, he can do it to every union… Taking away our legal right to strike, that’s not fair.”
“Shame!” shouted the crowd.
“When MPPs stand up for us against him, they get kicked out of the legislature,” Ruttan continued, referring to the 18 New Democratic Party MPPs whom Speaker of the Legislature Ted Arnott asked to leave the chamber on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022, during the debate about Bill 28, the Act which denied CUPE members the right to strike.
Ruttan concluded by referring to the Ford government’s threat to impose a fine of up to $4,000 a day on individual CUPE employees, or $500,000 for the union. “If they tell us we are worth $4,000 a day, and they can’t run the school without us, that means we are worth $4,000 dollars a day,” she said, to loud cheering.