Hundreds marched at the Ontario legislature on Nov 1 to protest against the Doug Ford government’s back-to-work legislation that would impose a contract on Ontario’s 55,000 education workers and block them from striking.

The union representing education workers says workers are planning to walk off the job on Friday. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) has said the workers include early childhood educators, educational assistants, lunch workers, and custodians.

As a strike looms, many constitutional experts are raising concerns over the government’s plan to use the notwithstanding clause to pass the legislation that forces a contract on the workers.

Educational assistants are some of the lowest paid workers in the education sector. CUPE has said these workers only make an average of $39,000 a year, and have been seeking annual salary increases of 11.7 per cent. A majority of these workers are women, and more than half work at least one additional job to make ends meet.

They’ve been called the “backbone” of schools, yet many have reported being forced to turn to food banks because their wages are so low.

If passed, the Keeping Students in Class Act would block their right to strike for better working conditions, levying $4,000 a day fines at striking workers.

The Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) is calling the legislation a “full-frontal attack on basic labour freedoms in Ontario.”

“Today is a dark day for Ontario workers. By introducing this legislation before education workers have even exercised their Charter-protected right to strike, the Ford government is attempting to short-circuit the bargaining process and strip workers of a fundamental freedom,” Patty Coates, Ontario Federation of Labour President told the National Post. “Doug Ford and his government are once again telling workers across the province that their rights don’t matter.”