Andrea Addario | CUPE Communications

Workers have racked up another significant victory in the courts, courtesy of an effort led by 55,000 CUPE education workers in Ontario. In late April, the Ontario Superior Court issued a decision in favour of several education unions, ruling Bill 115 unconstitu- tional. The court challenge was filed in 2013 after Bill 115 stripped workers in the education sector of their rights to bargain collectively.

Roomful of people seated at tables holding up voter cards

“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. “But we saw
it as a threat to all Canadian workers, and we couldn’t let it pass unchallenged. The court agreed: this Bill was a gross overreach that trampled basic freedom-of-association rights.”

The judge ruled that Bill 115 - the so-called “Putting Students First Act” - violated Charter rights in two ways. Essentially, the government created a situation that made true collective bargaining impossible, forcing us to bargain “in the dark” without data, and lumping our interests in with teachers, even though we could only bargain on behalf of our membership. Secondly, Bill 115 gave the government the authority to prohibit strikes, without providing any alternative, such as binding arbitration.

Gavin Leeb, one of CUPE’s lawyers on the case, said “The court ruled that in giving the government the ability to prohibit strikes, Bill 115 violated the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada previously found the Saskatchewan government had done the same in the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour case, which CUPE also supported. Together, these cases are building a body of jurisprudence in Canada that affirms workers’ Charter right to freedom of association.”