‘I have friends and co-workers who can’t pay their rent, who have moved back to their parents, or who rely on loans and food banks to get by,’ says CUPE official amid contract talks with the province
BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your full name, daytime phone number and address (for verification of authorship, not publication). The following letter from Todd Canning is in response to the ‘LETTER: Education Workers’ Union Speaks ‘Half Truths’, published September 24th. Canning has worked for nearly 20 years in information technology services for the York Region District School Board and is a member of the Education Workers Central Bargaining Committee for CUPE Ontario School Boards Council (OSBCU).
When schools closed during the first wave of the pandemic and students shifted to online classes, information technology (IT) departments worked overtime.
Many teachers taught from home. Some directors also worked remotely. But my IT colleagues visited their York Region schools every day to make sure students had devices and internet access so they could connect with their classmates and keep learning. Within weeks, we helped create a whole new system of primary and secondary virtual schools that thousands of students adopted to continue their education during the height of the pandemic.
We prepared and distributed 20,000 laptops and coordinated data plans for those without reliable internet. We helped teachers use webcams and trained them to set up online lessons. And we worked with anxious parents, answering questions so their technology could work smoothly as we navigated uncharted waters.
IT departments are usually only noticed when things go wrong, when servers go down or devices don’t work. I spent almost 20 years in computer services for the York Region District School Board. I’ve never seen anything like the mobilization that happened at the start of this pandemic – but I’ve seen that same commitment throughout my career.
IT workers share the same dynamism as our colleagues in schools across Ontario. We are here because we believe in the transformative power of education and we want to serve our communities. That’s why we do it. Whether in a classroom or behind the scenes, I have heard many people say that working in education is a calling.
But dedication and commitment don’t pay the bills. On average, my 55,000 co-workers and I are only paid $39,000 a year and that’s not sustainable for anyone.
More than half of education workers have a second job to make ends meet. I have friends and co-workers who can’t afford to pay their rent, who have moved back to their parents, or who rely on loans and food banks to get by.
Education workers are early childhood educators who lead play-based learning that helps our youngest to thrive; teacher aides who provide one-on-one attention so that all students get the support they need; custodians, tradespeople and maintenance staff who ensure that schools are safe and clean; the librarians and language and music teachers who inspire countless students; administrative and IT staff whose work ensures the smooth running of schools.
These are important and meaningful jobs. But they are not fairly compensated or provided with adequate resources.
The results of years of government cutbacks are painful to watch. We have schools in the area that are only cleaned every other day, where a teacher’s aide is responsible for hundreds of students, where every day an average of 180 teacher’s aide and designated Early Childhood Education (ECE) remained vacant last year.
Schools can’t hire workers or keep them, and students end up suffering.
That’s why my 55,000 colleagues – all education workers who are members of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions – are currently bargaining for the public good in our negotiations with the provincial government and the associations of administrators (CTA).
For years, the provincial government bled our schools dry. They cut funding and staff. They have limited services. We will change that.
Our proposals are reasonable and affordable. More than that, they are necessary for the good of our students and the health of our communities.
We want to guarantee services for all students. We want to turn these precarious, underpaid jobs into careers people can stay in. And we want school boards to have a consistent workforce that will allow all children to succeed.
This is why we are asking for a salary increase of $3.25 per year of a three-year contract. This fair increase would help education workers cope with high inflation after a decade of government-mandated pay cuts. This would allow many of us to survive on one full-time job and allow school boards to attract and retain the staff they need to provide the services students need.
IT workers – like the other 6,400 frontline education workers in York public and Catholic schools – want to focus on students, not on fighting the provincial government for resources after so many struggles. years of cuts. We embarked on this line of work to provide our communities with the best schools possible. Our students deserve it.
But the Ford government cut funding to schools by $800 per student in their first four years in office. That’s $1.6 billion missing from schools last year alone. It’s time for them to stop the cuts and we’re negotiating to force some of that funding back to improve schools for children, families and workers.
Education workers have a good proposal to put on the table. It is reasonable, necessary and affordable. Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce have the power and the resources to accept this proposal. They could and should do it today.
CUPE Ontario School Board Council of Unions, Education Workers Central Bargaining Committee