The following was submitted by Mike Galipeau, a custodian working for Algoma District School Board and a member of the CUPE Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU) education workers’ central bargaining committee:
I’m a high school custodian.
This was my second job out of high school. It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this work for more than 40 years, yet satisfying to know I’ve helped provide a safe and clean school for students to learn and teachers to teach.
Now my 55,000 coworkers and I – frontline education workers throughout Ontario who are members of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions – are in a vitally important round of negotiations with the Council of Trustees’ Associations (CTA) and the provincial government.
We served notice to bargain on June 3, the day after the election. Our hope was that, recognizing our previous contract included service guarantees for students, school boards and the Ministry would make the most of the 90 days between then and the start of the new school year to reach a new agreement with us.
Instead, due mostly to government delay tactics, the negotiators sitting across the table from us made themselves available to bargain on only eight days. And though that might sound like a lot, the time spent face to face each day could best be measured in minutes, not hours.
This Friday will be our first meeting with the CTA and government representatives in three weeks. Because we want to reach a deal, we’ve asked for a third-party conciliator to be there to mediate.
So what’s at stake? Student success and good jobs.
Over 70% of my coworkers are women.
More than half of us work at least one additional job to make ends meet and 60% of us are laid off without pay every summer.
On average, we earn only $39,000 a year.
Over the past 10 years ending in 2021, our wages have gone up only 8.8% while inflation was 19.5%. In other words, the lowest-paid frontline education workers in Canada’s richest province have already taken a 10.7% wage cut.
With inflation this year expected to be at least 7%, the Ford government’s shockingly out of touch offer is to pay us just 1.25 or 2% more – another wage cut.
This would be devastating. In particular for another custodian I know who is paid $38,000 annually after working 30 years for our school board.
She’s had surgery for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome on both hands due to repetitive work. With increased workloads, she’s struggling to keep up.
After a lifetime of hard work, she – and anyone – deserves to retire. But because of the last decade of government-imposed wage freezes and salary caps, she can’t afford the poverty that awaits if she stops working.
Then there are the cuts to services for students that have the education minister spinning like a top to avoid discussing them.
Over its first four years in power, the Ford government cut funding for schools by $800 per student. That amounted to $1.6 billion less last year alone.
In this part of the province, the Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board and Northeastern Catholic District School Board’s cuts have resulted in five fewer educational assistants, one less child-youth worker, and several fewer custodians this year.
These cuts of frontline workers – the people whose work is the provision of services students rely on – are completely avoidable if there was the political will to invest in education again.
And that’s where the power of education workers together comes in.
Our collective bargaining proposals for student success and good jobs, would:
- Guarantee increased services for students – by hiring more staff after years of cuts;
- Protect service levels against cuts – by strengthening service security and guaranteeing minimum staffing levels at each school board; and
- Help solve school boards’ problems retaining and recruiting workers – by improving wages so that boards will be able to attract and keep workers.
We’re fighting for every four and five-year-old to get the vital play-based learning support that’s only possible with an early childhood educator in every kindergarten classroom.
We’re fighting for increased direct support from educational assistants to better meet the needs of students.
We’re fighting for enough library workers to make sure school libraries are open and reading opportunities are available to children all the time.
We’re fighting for enough secretaries in school offices and enough lunchroom supervisors to keep students safe.
And we’re fighting for more custodians, maintenance workers, and tradespeople to keep schools clean and begin to tackle the $16 billion repair backlog.
All of this is reasonable, affordable, and very much necessary.
In fact, education workers’ proposals for student success and good jobs would not fully restore – even three years from now – all of the money the Ford government cut from Ontario kids’ education during its first term.
It’s time for the Ford government’s negotiators to accept the good proposals we’ve put on the table. Doug Ford has the resources and power to direct them to do so. He could and should do that today.