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OPSEU college workers join thousands in actions across Ontario to call for $15 and Fairness

Crowd of people holding up flags and banners, including OPSEU flags, in support of $15 minimum wage and fair labour laws

Thousands of frontline college workers, students and allies signed petitions and participated in Day of Action events at college campuses across Ontario on October 15. OPSEU members also joined hundreds of labour and community activists in a march up Toronto’s University Avenue to the Ministry of Labour.

OPSEU college workers joined forces with the Fight for $15 and Fairness Campaign to coordinate Day of Action events together. The events were a protest against the Ford government’s threat to cancel the January, 2019 minimum wage increase, and eliminate the important gains for workers included in Bill 148, the Fair Workplaces, Better Jobs Act.

OPSEU President, Warren (Smokey) Thomas said attacks on workers’ rights by the Ford government are inspiring a massive groundswell of support for issues such as equal pay for equal work and a $15 minimum wage.

“We’re talking about basic respect for working people. When the government starts going after minimum wage and the basic rights included in Bill 148, they are making the fight personal,” said Thomas. “These events were a clear indication of how labour issues are everyone’s issues. Massive mobilization is happening to protect workers’ rights.”

Bill 148 promised equal pay for equal work which would mean enormous improvements to the lives of temporary and contract workers. It also promised vacation time, emergency leave days and sick time.

October 15 also marked the first year anniversary of the historic College Faculty strike of 2017. Campus events included gathering thousands of signatures for a petition to reinstate the College Task Force. Premier Ford cancelled the Task Force although it had been mandated by an Arbitration Award following the college strike.

“The Day of Action events were a huge statement,” said OPSEU College Faculty Division Chair, RM Kennedy. “They marked a profound culture shift on campus.”

Kennedy noted that increasing minimum wage is a big deal for students. “They are overwhelmingly concerned about getting good jobs with decent wages when they graduate. Students also need a fair minimum wage so that they can afford to put themselves through school.”

Numerous colleges attempted to shut down the Day of Action activities, citing the “political nature” of the actions. While most of them backed down when they were challenged, La cite and Sault Colleges remained adamant in their denial of free speech.

At Seneca College, activists protested outside in the rain until the college did an about-face and allowed the action to take place indoors. Lambton and Conestoga colleges changed their minds on Sunday night, at the 11th hour, and gave campus actions the green light.