Windsor-Essex Catholic schools to return to in-person learning Tuesday as CUPE ends walkout

The Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board said students can return to in-person learning Tuesday.  (CBC - image credit)
The Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board said students can return to in-person learning Tuesday. (CBC - image credit)

The Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) announced classes will return to in-person learning on Tuesday, after the union representing thousands of Ontario education workers said it would end its job action.

Premier Doug Ford said Monday he will repeal legislation that imposed a contract and banned workers from striking, prompting the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) to "collapse" province-wide walkouts that began on Friday.

Representatives of CUPE said at a news conference Monday that Ford had put his commitment in writing, and that both sides would restart contract negotiations. They were joined by labour leaders from nearly 20 other unions at the media briefing.

The WECDSB closed schools to in-person learning on Friday and Monday due to CUPE's planned job action.

In a statement Monday, the board said schools would reopen to students on Tuesday.

"We expect that all students and staff will return to school Tuesday morning and follow their regular schedules. Transportation will be provided as usual," the statement said.

"We hope that CUPE and the government will return to the bargaining table as soon as possible and arrive at a contract that satisfies all those involved."

Across Windsor-Essex, hundreds of workers and their supporters picketed at local MP offices, saying they would continue the job action until a negotiated deal could be reached with the province.

Jennifer La Grassa/CBC
Jennifer La Grassa/CBC

Many workers were frustrated with Ontario's Bill 28. The law included the notwithstanding clause to circumvent any constitutional challenge to the legislation. The clause allows legislatures to override parts of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms for a five-year term. On Monday, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce confirmed in a statement that the government will repeal the bill "in its entirety."

The legislature is not currently sitting, so MPPs would need to be called back early for the law to be repealed this week.

Two education assistants who spoke with CBC News at the picket lines Monday were delighted by the province's news.

"I am so happy we can be with our kids, we can actually be back at the table where we belonged this whole time," said Angel Ferguson.

"It's nice that the government is seeing that the notwithstanding clause wasn't appropriate in this setting and that we're glad they're going to repeal it so we can actually get back to bargaining," said June Holmes.


"I'm pretty optimistic, I'm cautious with this government, but I think that what has happened today should have happened a while ago with this government — they should have realized this legislation should've never been passed," Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, said to CBC News on Monday.

"But you know what there is always a second chance for people and I think we should give them the opportunity to come to the table and address the concerns of these frontline workers.

Spagnuolo joined a picket line Monday, following the news the bill would be repealed. He said he wanted to stand by workers and congratulate them on their efforts.

"I was relieved that they finally came to their senses, it was a sense of happiness we were successful in our struggle," he said. "I also give a lot credit to workers who took a risk to politically protest what the government was doing, it was not easy."

Laura Walton, president of CUPE's Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says she hopes the union's gesture of "good faith" in ending its walkout is met with similar good faith by the government at the bargaining table.

CUPE members walked off the job despite the law banning them from doing so, and the government had taken them to the Ontario Labour Relations Board on the legality of the job action. A ruling is still pending.

Walton said CUPE education workers will be back on the job Tuesday, though it is up to individual school boards to decide when schools closed by the protest will reopen. She added that CUPE is willing to strike if renewed negotiations fall apart.

The Greater Essex District School Board remains open to in-person learning, having never closed schools to students amid the job action.