This article originally appeared in the Toronto Sun.
By Jamil Jivani, November 3, 2022
My grandfather was a school custodian in Toronto. He worked in a few different schools, including Gledhill Junior Public School in East York and Northern Secondary School on Mount Pleasant Road. He would have been a member of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
As the labour dispute between CUPE and the Government of Ontario continues to unfold, I’ve been wondering what grandpa would think of the ordeal.
The stakes are clear. Millions of children are impacted by labour negotiations, or lack thereof. Parents are understandably frustrated by the prospect of kids missing even more time in school. And the partisan battle lines have been drawn, with even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau weighing in on the side of the union.
Of course, there’s also the debate about the appropriate use of the notwithstanding clause, which has further intensified the divides around this issue. The construction union LiUNA, which endorsed Premier Doug Ford, came out against the Ford administration’s back-to-work legislation on Wednesday.
Grandpa isn’t around to give me his thoughts, but I can see him easily empathizing with the union he’d be part of.
He was an immigrant to Canada from Scotland. At that time, his salary was enough to provide for his wife and four children. Grandpa would be shocked at how little a school custodian’s salary counts for these days.
Today, school custodians would struggle to own a home and pay the bills like he was able to back in the day. The argument in favour of a significant increase in pay for workers is obvious.
But today’s labour dispute in Ontario isn’t so simple. And I think grandpa would appreciate that, too.
Grandpa worked hard every day so that he could give his kids, including my mom, the opportunities in Canada that he could only dream of in Scotland. He knew that education was a key part of guaranteeing a prosperous future for his family. Each of his kids finished high school with the fundamental skills they needed to be independent and successful in the Canadian economy.
CUPE’s looming strike threatens to hurt kids who depend on a quality public education to achieve the things my grandpa did. A strike would keep Ontario kids out of school for more days, after Ontario kids missed a record number of school days during the pandemic. Last month’s EQAO results helped shine light on just how much learning has been lost, as a growing number of students are falling to meet grade level expectations in math.
It’s a complicated situation, as many things are these days.
I don’t know exactly what my grandpa would say or do, but it’s hard for me to not think of him.
As politicians and union heads duke it out before the media, the needs and experiences of workers and their families are drowned out by the posturing and bluster. It would be nice to hear more from the people impacted by both sides in the dispute.
Jamil Jivani is a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute and President of the Canada Strong & Free Network.