Terri Preston, Ontario School Board Coordinating Committee

TORONTOCUPE’s 55, 000 education workers are lauding a significant Ontario Superior Court victory, after several unions challenged the constitutionality of Bill 115. The court challenge was filed in 2013 after Bill 115 stripped workers in the education sector of their rights to bargain collectively. The challenge was postponed in 2014 at the request of the province, and resumed in December, 2015.

CUPE’s position has always been that Bill 115 violated our basic Charter rights,” said Terri Preston, chair of the union’s education sector coordinating committee. “We saw it as a threat to all Canadian workers, and we couldn’t let it pass unchallenged. The court validated our position that this Bill was a gross overreach that trampled basic freedom-of-association rights.”

“After this lawsuit was initially filed, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) ruled in the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour case that workers have a constitutional right to strike,” said Fred Hahn, president of CUPE Ontario. “CUPE was a lead union on that SCC case, and victory there gave us great confidence in our case here. We are thrilled the Superior Court has agreed that the government’s approach to collective bargaining was ‘fundamentally flawed’.”

Significantly, in his ruling Justice Lederer wrote that the impact of this flawed piece of legislation was “not just on the economic circumstances of education workers but on their associational rights and the dignity, autonomy and equality that comes with the exercise of that fundamental freedom.”

“This couldn’t send a clearer message to governments that they ought not interfere in free collective bargaining,” said Preston. “It’s a terrific ruling for education workers in Ontario and in building on the existing case law, for all Canadian workers.”

Justice Lederer made no ruling on remedy, obliging the parties to meet to try and reach agreement. If agreement is not reached on remedy, the matter will be referred back to him. “We will meet with the other unions with whom we engaged in this court challenge to discuss what we want to see by way of remedy,” said Hahn. “We will continue to work together to preserve basic collective bargaining rights.  We call on the Liberal government to accept this ruling and put any thought of a costly appeal out of their minds. Now they must spend time, energy and resources on remedy, and on strengthening the public education system in Ontario.”

The parties to the challenge, alongside CUPE, were the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF), and the Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union (OPSEU). UNIFOR also had intervenor status.

CUPE represents 55, 000 education workers in Ontario, including custodians, administrative and clerical staff, educational assistants, instructors, tradespeople, early childhood educators, and many more, across all four school board systems (English and French, Catholic and public).

Photo: Terri Preston, chair of the union’s education sector coordinating committee