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Education workers short staffed and underpaid, union boss says

More educational assistants, custodians, 'real wage increase' needed
20220913-Laura Walton supplied photo
Laura Walton, CUPE's Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU) president.

Ontario’s education workers say they’re happy to be back at work after COVID lockdowns.

But they want better pay and better staffing.

“The key issues we’re talking about is improvement of services in schools, both through increased provincial government funding to ensure the services are in place but also to improve wages so that the staff is available to provide those services,” said Laura Walton, an educational assistant and CUPE's Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU) president speaking to SooToday on Tuesday. 

Walton is in Sault Ste. Marie for a CUPE conference - held at Quattro - that began Monday and wraps up tomorrow.

“We have heard stories of schools in northern Ontario where they’re being cleaned only every other day because there’s inadequate custodial staff support. We have heard stories of students not being able to come to school because there’s inadequate educational assistant support. There’s a host of issues that are happening throughout the province but more specifically in northern Ontario.”

Walton said her union is also concerned about a shortage of library workers, adding some schools have closed their libraries.

Walton said OSBCU wants more educational assistants, early childhood educators, custodians and librarians in the province’s schools as well as more skilled trades workers to address a repair backlog in schools.

“One of the proposals that we have is for an early childhood educator to be in every single Kindergarten classroom across the province. We know that the little ones coming in have spent the majority of their lives in isolation and uncertainty and we know that having those additional supports will start them off on their best foot in their future in education. “

As far as pay is concerned, the union has put forward a proposal of a pay raise of $3.25 per hour per year for every education worker in Ontario.

“The government has responded and said they think two per cent for anyone making under $40,000 and 1.25 per cent for anyone making over $40,000 is adequate, and it’s disrespectful to these workers," Walton said.

Walton said her union’s members have not only been affected by Bill 124, which consists of a one per cent pay raise per year, but also a previous government’s Bill 115 that froze wages in 2012.

“Education workers make, on average, $39,000 a year and we’re about 11 per cent behind over the last decade. We’re asking for a real wage increase at this point.” 

“When our wages aren’t keeping up, people are not attracted to come and work for the school boards. Every day we hear of more people leaving.” 

OSBCU’s latest contract expired August 31.

Walton said OSBCU does not want to strike - with strike votes coming up next Friday Sept. 23 - and that the union will be meeting with the Ontario government this Friday.

“We’re really quite hopeful that we will be able to get some real good bargaining started. It hasn’t happened to date, but it needs to happen,” Walton said.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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