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Support staff walk out – Striking against the Harris cuts

MARCH 1, 1999 – Saturday morning, February 27, more than 14,000 educational workers in the Toronto school board, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 4400, walked off the job.[1]

According to CUPE, the Toronto board is facing budget cuts of $172-million because of the Harris Tories’ Bill 160, cuts which pose the possibility of 4,358 job losses in the next four years.[2]

But these are essential workers. They are the custodians, administrative staff, teaching assistants, English as a Second Language (ESL) instructors, international language instructors and lunch-room assistants.

They have already faced job losses and downsizing. And for eight and a half years, they have worked without a wage increase.

“We’re not asking for more – we are just asking to keep what we already have, to stop the cutbacks,” said Pam Joyner, a striking member of Local 4400.

“This is the same fight as last year,” said Joyner, referring to a series of lock-outs and strikes, impacting 134,000 students, ended by back-to-work legislation from the Harris Tories.[3] “If we don’t stop the cuts now, it will be just handed down to the students. They won’t have the programs, they won’t have the people who know them and their problems.”

Joyner says you can see what the future holds if the cuts go through by looking at the situation in some of the Catholic school boards. “There are some schools in the Catholic board with 600 students who have only one caretaker. This means the community can’t use the school after school hours, because there is no staff.”

On picket lines across the city, on Monday March 1, dozens of students were showing their solidarity by walking the line. Teachers were bringing out donuts and coffee.

Striking Hydro workers came to one line to show their support.

There are picket lines at more than 500 schools across Toronto.

Visit the lines, show your support.

Pass a motion in your union condemning the Tories and supporting the striking members of CUPE 4400.

© 1999 Paul Kellogg. This work is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 license.

Voices from the picket line

“It’s really bad what Harris has done. They’ve got the money. We’ve had three years of social contract, eight and a half years with no raise, and now the Tories want our blood.” – Margaret Roddy, City Adult Learning Centre

“After 25 years I haven’t had to be on strike. But there comes a day when you have to. – “Striking worker, City Adult Learning Centre

“We’ve been short staffed around here for over two years. It’s like a car running on only two cylinders. There’s no replacement for retirees.” – Steve Johnson, stationary engineer at City Adult Learning Centre and picket captain

“I’d rather be working, but I’m out now with my sisters and brothers because I want to have a job to go to.” – Janet McDowell, lunch assistant, Rosedale Heights

“I support the strikers because I want a school that is clean and safe and has people to talk to.” – Amanda Trumble, student at Rosedale Heights

“I support the strikers because these people deserve more credit for what they do. The school is not working. It’s chaotic and dirty and the fire alarm was ringing for 45 minutes this morning.” – Esperanza Maggay, student at Rosedale Heights

“‘Non-essential’ workers, Mr. Harris? Not at this school! $300-million more out of Toronto schools.” – Words on a home-made sign carried by Brian Pastoor, English teacher at Rosedale Heights

“It’s obvious it’s all part of the same fight. The issue of Bill 160 and the effects of the cuts to education will continue to affect us in the years to come. Last year, I was strongly in support of the teachers’ strike and disappointed the strike ended before we were able to push the Harris agenda back.” – Rizwana Jafry, teacher at Rosedale Heights, member of OSSTF (Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation)


[1] Lila Sarick, “CUPE Strike Prompts Board to Shut 21 Schools Walkout Could Force Other Closings as Negotiations Continue in Contract Dispute with 14,000 Education Workers,” The Globe and Mail, March 1, 1999, sec. Toronto News.

[2] Lila Sarick, “Union Sets Feb. 27 Strike Deadline for School Board Support Workers,” The Globe and Mail, February 17, 1999, sec. Toronto News.

[3] Richard Mackie and Jennifer Lewington, “Schools to Reopen as Law Passes Quickly Vote Sends 134,000 Students Back to Class within a Couple of Days,” The Globe and Mail, September 29, 1998, sec. News.

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