Educational assistants (EAs) from both the Niagara catholic and separate school boards, represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), along with CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan, held a media conference in Niagara Falls on Thursday, April 19, 2007, to release the findings of a CUPE survey of EA working conditions.
At the media conference, held in conjunction with the Ontario School Boards Coordinating Committee (OSBCC) conference, EAs told local Niagara media and conference delegates that they are stretched too thin to complete competing tasks and they don’t have enough in-classroom time to adequately support special needs students.
The survey, part of CUPE Ontario school support staff initiative to “fix the education funding formula,” was completed by nearly 4,000 EAs—one-quarter of the total number of EAs represented by CUPE. The survey reveals that EA workloads have intensified, conditions of work have deteriorated, and hours of work have been cut since the education funding formula was introduced in 1998. The findings show that:
- 84% of EAs experienced violence while at work, ranging from verbal aggression to serious physical assaults;
- Many EAs have missed work or been hospitalized because of these injuries;
- EAs are routinely sent right back to work with no time to recover from violent incidents.
“The provincial Liberals have failed to address or even acknowledge the concerns of EAs. Now we have research showing that overwork and violence are key areas the province needs to address to improve the working conditions of these vital special education workers,” said Ryan.
CUPE estimates that the cost of bringing EAs across the province up to a 7-hour workday would be $63 million by 2008.
Niagara area EAs say they are stepping up the fight, along with other EAs represented by CUPE across the province, to fix education funding for special education.
OSBCC committee member and eastern Ontario EA Sue Hanson also presented the results of the survey to the Ontario education minister Kathleen Wynne on Friday, April 22, 2007, when the minister addressed conference delegates.
Hanson called on the minister to “give us (CUPE) a timetable and a firm commitment so that our issues will be dealt with.”
The minister responded by acknowledging the valuable work EAs do in our schools—supporting special needs students. “You are making very good points,” said Wynne. “But I don’t have the authority to put more money into the education system this year.”