Shut Down Ontario! Open Letter Calls for ONDP and Labor Leaders to Organize Mass Work Refusals

This article was originally published by Fightback (IMT in Canada) on April 26, 2021.

As COVID-19 ravages Ontario at rates previously unseen, the Ford government and big business have let thousands of workers contract the virus in unsafe workplaces without basic protections—this cannot be allowed to continue! In response to this a movement calling for mass work refusals has sprung up in the province.

Ford won’t be talked into caring for workers

Ontario has more COVID-19 infections than any other province. Over 4000 are infected every day. Hospitals and Intensive Care Units are on the edge of disaster. Nearly 8,000 have been killed by the virus to date. That number will multiply if allowed to and hazardous workplaces have been the key driver. In Jan. 2021, Ontario health experts found nearly one in five total COVID-19 infections were “workplace infections”—which does not include infections from public transit, from cramped housing and from other sites working class people cannot escape. The Ford government’s own monitoring demonstrated that essential employers were cutting corners on health and safety.

Ford was warned a reopening would mean a record-high third wave of infection. Despite these warnings, he reopened non-essential retail to appease big business—without taking any serious steps to protect frontline workers. Ford further repeatedly refused to restore the paid sick days he took away in 2018. His government refused to close workplaces with repeated outbreaks. Ford further botched Ontario’s vaccine rollout in some of the hardest-hit, lowest income areas. Working class people in Scarborough and near Jane and Finch are forced to line up for hours to access insufficient vaccine supplies while wealthy Tory areas have been prioritized.

Ford, the Tory party and big business have revealed their utter indifference to workers’ health throughout this third wave. Ford called paid sick days for essential workers a “waste” at the start of the third wave. During an April “moment of silence” for workers killed during the pandemic, Tory house leader Paul Calandra was caught scrolling on his phone. Ford himself has since apologized and even cried amid plummeting popularity, but nothing yet has changed. We cannot wait for the Tories to find a conscience.

Labor must support workers refusing unsafe work

In the face of employer and government negligence, essential workers have been forced to refuse hazardous work to protect themselves. This past week, Gateway postal workers, educational assistants at Mississauga’s Applewood Public School and teachers in Brampton refused unsafe work during spiking infections. They follow recent refusals by Mississauga teachers, Toronto and Windsor transit workers and others. Throughout 2020, there were hundreds of work refusals and thousands of such complaints to the ministry. There is a strong desire to fight. This is further evidenced in the uptick in union drives and strike mandates by essential workers. Just this week, Toronto Catholic District School Board teachers voted for a strike mandate against an employer demand that they supply doctors’ notes to justify absences.

At recent meetings of over 1000 called by the Ontario NDP, and nearly 350 called by the $15 and Fairness campaign, demands for a campaign of mass work refusals received wide support from attendees. These organizations can and must play an organizing role. Ontario Labour Relations Board bulletins show a rash of recent complaints about “health and safety reprisals” at Amazon facilities, grocery stores, long term care sites, and in other essential workplaces. Many more reprisals have likely not been reported. Workers need to know that if they refuse unsafe work that these massive organizations, representing over 200,000 workers in Toronto alone, will come to their defense.

Join The Campaign

A collective of NDP riding associations, labor activists, other allies and community members have written an open letter calling on the Ontario NDP and labor leaders to initiate a campaign for mass work refusals.  Among the hundreds of official signatories are: ATU 113 President Carlos Santos and UNIFOR Local 31 President Kevin Paddon and representatives of OPSEU and USW locals. Other signatories include York-Simcoe NDP president Jessa McLean, former NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo and 8 other NDP riding association presidents. The letter calls for the following:

We demand the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Ontario NDP:

  1. Call for and organize mass work refusals to protect working class lives. Declare a “state of emergency,” and activate extraordinary measures to facilitate mass work refusals, strikes, walkouts, or other forms of withdrawal of labor in the face of deadly working conditions. These actions need to be taken in the shortest possible amount of time.
  2. Renew the demand for paid sick leave, double hazard pay for essential workers, and the closure of non-essential industries with full compensation for those put out of work. The millionaire bosses, not the taxpayers, should pay for these measures.
  3. Call for an immediate and sustained increase to financial support (ODSP/OW) for people living with disabilities, and accelerated vaccine protocols for family caregivers of people living with disabilities.

Those behind the open letter are part of the Ontario Coalition Against Ford—hosting its Action Launch Tuesday April 27 at 8:30pm.

No outbreak, no spike in deaths, no high-profile tragedies have swayed Doug Ford. Workers have been refused safe working conditions, sick days, and more. They need support to refuse unsafe work.

We call on everybody to sign the letter, attend the meeting and do everything to support the movement of work refusals. This is the only way to get real action by the Ford government and end the spread of the virus.

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