Letter: Respect! Is It Too Much To Ask?

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I’m sure many of you reading this right now are already tired of hearing about the current battle taking place between education workers and the Ministry of Education. Truth be told, so are many of us – the education support workers.

respect-unionThis has actually been going on since our contract expired on August 31, 2012. In an effort to win votes from the citizens of Ontario, the Ontario Liberal Party launched an attack on education workers and public service employees in general, insinuating that we were costing the taxpayers too much money and that the people of Ontario would be better served by privately run public services.

For education workers the attack was launched through legislation. Bill 115, offensively titled “Putting Students First”, completely violated our Chartered Rights to collective bargaining and insinuated that we, as education workers, were being selfish at the expense of our students. The truth of the matter is that all of the money that the Ministry of Education saved by stripping our contracts was never reinvested into the education of our students. The Ontario Liberal Party had a political agenda – to get re-elected.

Fast forward to August 31, 2014: not much has changed. The Ontario Liberal Party is still trying to privatize our public services and to balance their budget on the backs of Ontario public service employees. The imposed MOUs have now expired and the Ministry of Education barely even lets on that they are aware. The complacency with which the government and school boards have approached this current round of bargaining, especially for support staff, is frankly insulting.

In my opinion the provincial government and the school boards have always displayed a complete disregard and disrespect for the work that we do. We are always just an after-thought when they are dealing with the teacher groups. Even though our issues are different they don’t even want to hear from us until the teacher contracts are signed. We just get the leftovers.

Education support staff are a critical part of Ontario’s education system – a system that is already ranked in the top 5 in the world. It’s not the government and it’s not the school boards who keep the system in the top five. It’s the people who work every day in our schools and school boards. It’s our passionate, hard-working teachers as well as the 55,000 CUPE education support workers province wide. We are a team – one group is not any more vital or important than the other. Education support workers are the backbone of our schools. We ensure that our students have a safe, clean, and nurturing learning environment and we provide the additional supports students need to succeed.

We have been working without a contract since last August. On Friday, July 17th, after enduring almost 11 months of delay after delay and being completely ignored by the Ministry of Education, our leaders were finally allowed to exchange proposals with the government and school board trustee associations. They are proposing another three years of zero wage increases on top of the zeroes we have had since 2012. Every proposal in the document involves a concession or a claw-back.

I can’t wait to see how the Ontario Liberal Party tries to justify their deep cuts to education funding this time around. Perhaps their next bill should be entitled “Putting the Ontario Liberal Party First”. Not one of their proposals works to the benefit of our students. In fact, they are to their detriment.

I am afraid for the physical and mental well-being of my members and our students. For the past few years education support staff have been struggling with excessive workloads. With the cuts to education funding for this September, many of our workers have lost their full-time employment. Our work environment has become unsafe in many circumstances. Unfortunately, our working conditions are also the students’ learning conditions.

Our schools cannot afford another cut to education support staff. With the implementation of a full-day kindergarten program and the dramatic increase in cases of behavioral issues, autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities, the level of student needs has increased dramatically. Too many of our students are unable to get the time and attention they need. The learning environment has become chaotic in many of our schools.

CUPE Education Support Workers work hard every school day in very difficult work environments with very little appreciation and respect. Our members have a passion for working closely with our young people and ensuring they have a welcoming, safe, and nurturing learning environment. They deserve the appreciation and respect of our province’s parents, school boards, and government!

Vicky Evans,
President, CUPE Local 4148