Windsor-Essex English Catholic board closes schools Friday amid CUPE education workers' protest

The Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board is closing school buildings Friday amid a planned protest by CUPE education workers, with student work to be posted by their teachers virtually.  (CBC - image credit)
The Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board is closing school buildings Friday amid a planned protest by CUPE education workers, with student work to be posted by their teachers virtually. (CBC - image credit)

The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) will close all school buildings Friday, with teachers posting online work for students to do remotely, amid a planned protest by CUPE education workers.

The board joins others across the province that have informed parents their schools will close as education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) embark on strike action.

"This closure to in-person is in accordance with provisions in the Education Act and in the interest of the health and safety of our students and staff," the board wrote in a statement on its website Wednesday.

"CUPE has indicated this will be a one-day protest, however should it continue into next week, we will communicate with parents about next steps."

The board said all non-CUPE staff are expected to report to work Friday and students can expect their teachers will provide online assignments for the day.

WECDSB said child-care centres will be open Friday, unless otherwise communicated.

The board says 400 workers are represented by CUPE at the WECDSB. They include educational assistants, early childhood educators and child youth workers.

As of the time this article was published, the Greater Essex County District School Board schools are set to be open Friday.

CUPE's 55,000 workers plan to walk off the job despite looming legislation that would make it illegal. CUPE has not indicated whether the job action would go beyond Friday.

The Ontario government has introduced a bill — and is hoping to pass it this week — to impose a contract on the education workers and ban them from striking upon threat of steep fines.

"It's tragic that the government would do something to this degree," said Mario Spagnuolo, president of the Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario. "I think when you talk to legal experts that study the constitution, they said that this has never been the intent for the notwithstanding clause. This government is the only government that has used the notwithstanding clause."

Spagnuolo called the proposed legislation "draconian" and said that it "criminalizes the right to protest in Ontario."

"So not only are they saying you can't strike, but if you do strike and you do take a political protest that we will fine you as individuals, as workers," he said Wednesday.

Criticizing the government's ads and rhetoric about bringing kids back to the classroom, Spagnuolo says the workers getting ready to walk out are doing so for the students they serve.

"We recognize and the government recognizes that there are serious issues within the education sector that need to be addressed," he said.

"You cannot catch up students in the province of Ontario when you keep taking millions of dollars away from a system that's already underfunded."

Ontario education talks won't proceed unless job action cancelled, Lecce says

Ontario's education minister suggested Wednesday there wouldn't be much movement at the bargaining table with education workers ahead of a looming strike despite the union proposing a counter-offer.

The government has said it would return to the table if the mediator asks, and had wanted to hear if the new offer from the CUPE was "reasonable." But Stephen Lecce said Wednesday any new proposal must include cancelling the job action planned for Friday.

"Take the threat off the table and let's talk," he said in a news conference.

"We've been very clear. We stand ready to negotiate with any willing partner, but they've got to take the strike off the table on Friday. We will not accept a strike this Friday or any day."

CUPE negotiators presented a counter-offer late Tuesday night in response to the imposed contract terms in the legislation. The union has not provided details of its new proposal.