AGO workers have been on strike for better wages, closing the gallery to the public. Photo provided by OPSEU.

News Briefs (May/June 2024)

AGO Workers on Strike, Gallery Closed

Workers at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) went on strike on Mar. 26, saying the gallery’s offer on wages and job protections are unacceptable. The AGO is closed due to the strike.

Most staff are part-time employees and make around $34,000 per year, according to their union, OPSEU.

The CEO makes over $400,000 per year, and was paid around $390,000 in consulting fees on top of that in 2020-2021.

Pushing for Better Indoor Air Quality to Prevent Spread of COVID-19

A group of residents is calling on the Toronto Board of Health (TBH) to make the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic a key part of public health plans. The group, which includes parents, scientists, and people with chronic illnesses or disabilities, sent a letter to TBH as part of its consultations for the 2024-28 Strategic Plan for Toronto Public Health.

COVID-19 is now the third-leading cause of death in Canada. It has been well established that the virus is spread by airborne transmission and there are serious risks of long-term complications from infection, including for those who have been vaccinated.

Noting this, the residents’ group has called on TBH to make clean indoor air a priority. Like clean water, the group argues, clean air is essential for health and it is an equity issue. They call on public health authorities to ensure Toronto’s schools, public transit, and municipal buildings be made safe and accessible for all.

A number of places around the world have made clean indoor air a priority, such as France, and closer by, Peterborough, ON. This can include measuring indoor concentrations of CO2 and improving ventilation.

High World Cup Costs Kept Secret for Years

The cost to the city of hosting soccer games in Toronto for the 2026 FIFA World Cup has grown from an estimate of $45 million in 2018 to an estimate of $380 million.

City council, at the urging of former mayor John Tory, locked in the agreement with FIFA without having secured funding from the provincial or federal governments and without telling the public, according to a Toronto Star investigation.

The province has now agreed to contribute $97 million and the feds will kick in an unknown amount.

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE) will not lose any money and stands to profit from renovating and hosting events at BMO Field, according to an agreement with the city, as reported by CTV News Toronto.

Ford Wants More Jails

“I’m going to be building more jails and I’m not worried about the criminals,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford in March.

According to data from the province, 81 per cent of those who are in provincial jails are not convicted but are instead awaiting trial.

Provincial jails hold those awaiting trial who are not out on bail, as well as those serving sentences under two years, while federal prisons hold those with longer sentences.

“Spending billions on designing, building, financing and maintaining new prison spaces through 30-year public-private-partnerships will line the pockets of Premier Ford’s friends in the construction and banking industries,” University of Ottawa criminology professor Justin Piché wrote on X/Twitter.

“But it’ll do little to enhance community well-being and safety for the rest of us. We know this, because criminological literature shows that for every $1 spent upstream to prevent criminalized acts we save $7 on cops, courts, cages and victims services.”

Province Pushing LCBO Privatization

Ontario Premier Doug Ford tried to convince the public in March that his Conservatives “will never, ever sell the LCBO,” but at the same time the LCBO presented a proposal that all but paves the way for its privatization. Management put that proposal on the table at the first bargaining session with the union representing LCBO workers, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

The LCBO plans to remove critical language from its Letters of Agreement protecting against contracting out, against job losses to agencies and grocery stores, against closing retail stores and laying off permanent and full-time staff, and more.

These changes could mean store closures and the loss of thousands of union jobs with good benefits. Private stores, including grocery giants, would profit more off alcohol sales.

In Saskatchewan, the conservative government shut down retail outlets of the provincial liquor agency in 2023, moving sales to private stores.

In negotiations, OPSEU tabled a 43-page document with their proposals and vision to “ensure the LCBO is a public asset for another 100 years.”

Bargaining is scheduled to continue through to July if necessary.

York University Strike Drags On

Contracts instructors, teaching assistants and graduate assistants at York University went on strike in late February, and as of mid-April, the strike is ongoing.

The 3,000 workers are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903, and say that low wages are a major issue. The union wants a wage increase of four to five per cent while the university is offering one per cent raises, according to reports.

In early March, police arrested a picketing worker for stepping on a roadway where the union has picketed for over 23 years, prompting labour experts to warn this may violate rights protected in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Citing the strike and other financial and governance issues, two-thirds of the members of the York University Faculty Association present at a special meeting in April voted in favour of a motion calling for the resignation of the university’s president, provost, and chair of the board of governors.

Ontario Place Spa on Taxpayer Dime?

The fight over Ontario Place continues, with much of the waterfront area now blocked off to the public.

Advocacy group Ontario Place for All estimated in April that the redevelopment, which would see a large private spa built, will cost Ontario taxpayers $650 million.

The provincial Conservative government responded to say it doesn’t agree with that estimate but didn’t provide its own numbers.

This article appeared in the 2024 May/June issue.