By Ron Giofu
Schools within the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) will remain open despite a strike impacting custodial, secretarial, maintenance, information technology and campus ministry staff members.
The strike began Monday morning.
“From administration’s point of view, our plan is to keep the schools open for the duration,” said Stephen Fields, communications coordinator with the WECDSB. “Students will be in the classroom learning, as they should be.”
The WECDSB has been alerting parents and students about the work stoppage, urging patience and safety.
“They can expect there will be delays as they will encounter picket lines when they go to the schools,” said Fields.
The Catholic board is asking that people remain respectful and composed during the strike. He said the board doesn’t want to discuss the issues publicly at this stage, but stated claims that the board doesn’t want to work towards and agreement as “patently false.” Fields told the River Town Times last Friday afternoon that a proposal was tabled by the board seven days earlier and had yet to receive a written response.
“We’re willing to talk at a moment’s notice,” said Fields.
Administration and management will try to cover off duties at the schools that are performed usually by the striking workers, he added.
“We’ll have our resources deployed at our schools to make sure things get done,” said Fields. “It’s not going to be easy but we’re pledging to keep the schools open for the duration.”
That could mean principals will have to perform some extra duties, he added.
Fields said the Catholic board is trying to reassure parents that their children can come to school but to be respectful and calm if they encounter any picket lines.
“This action is not directed at students, their families or the community, our picket lines will not prevent or delay students from entering the schools,” Unifor Local 2458 president Bruce Dickie stated in a press release.
Unifor Local 2458 states it represents 370 workers and states that parents, guardians and students will be allowed direct access for drop-off and pick-up. The union states “strike action follows years of failed negotiations with WECDSB. Two bargaining units represent the support workers. Both groups voted overwhelmingly to support a strike.”
Dickie told the River Town Times Monday morning one of the issues is when the starting point is of a collective agreement. A negotiated contract expired in 2012 but a new contract was imposed through the Putting Students First Act last through 2014. Dickie said that deal was taken to court and it was ruled unconstitutional, but a sticking point in current negotiations is whether the two sides are looking at the 2012 agreement or the 2014 agreement.
Dickie added that the board wants something out of every article in the agreements, something the union opposes. According to Dickie, the WECDSB also wants out of the benefit business and wants benefits offered through a trust.
“We want no part of a benefit trust,” he said.
A union local in Thunder Bay reached an agreement without a benefit trust part of that agreement.
“It has been extremely, extremely complex,” Dickie said of negotiations.
Benefits and sick time are issues, the latter having been “decimated” in recent years. He said the union would like to go into binding arbitration but claimed the school board “flatly rejected” that. He added a conciliator and the union is actually waiting for a response from the Catholic board.
“We made it clear we are willing to go back on a moment’s notice and we’ve been awaiting a call from the very beginning. We are not getting a response,” he said.
Dickie said the union hopes people will not do their work as that will make the strike longer and encourages people to speak with trustees and board administration.
“It’s not going to be an easy round of bargaining, for sure,” said Dickie. “There’s no question it’s going to be a long strike.”