May 8 featured a great rally followed by an empowering Annual General Meeting (AGM) at Regina Public School Board office. Over 200 education support workers, members from other CUPE locals, other unions and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour – along with representatives of community groups like Real Renewal and the public – rallied outside before going en masse into the AGM.
The room was overflowing. The public got the Board’s attention right from the start by electing René Dumont as chairperson for the evening, over the board-nominated chair. This was an historic event that sent a strong message to the Board that the public was tired of not being listened to.
Katherine Gagne, chair of the Board and the new director of ducation, Julie MacRae gave their reports. Gagne shared statistics including that the percentage of students graduating within three years of entering Grade 10 dropped from 71.9 per cent in 2007-2008 to 68.5 per cent in 2008-2009. Aboriginal students had only 30.3 per cent graduating within three years of entering Grade 10.
Following a presentation of student work and a break, the public got the opportunity to ask questions. A First Nations woman raised concerns about cultural insensitivity in the naming of Seven Stones School. Some people challenged the closure of schools and talked about the impact on neighbourhoods and communities in Regina.
When asked why the most vulnerable were being penalized through the reduction of EAs and community coordinators, MacRae’s shocking reply in defending the reductions of EAs was that the Board were hiring more teachers instead because they had been “putting our most challenged children with the least prepared staff.”
Many people questioned the Board about bargaining and the fairness of their monetary offer. A community activist raising his grandchildren, asked why the lowest paid workers were being offered less than everyone else.
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour President Larry Hubich said that as a ratepayer and a resident of more than 35 years, whose three children attended Regina public school, he wanted to know why they were offering a group of workers a significantly lower increase than teachers, non-unionized employees, and other professionals. Hubich noted that the Board themselves took a higher increase than they are offering education support workers.
On bargaining questions Gagne kept responding that they would not discuss the negotiations in public and said that the process was working. However, she did defend that the Board was given the same increase as teachers. Hubich responded that this was about accountability to ratepayers and that it was obvious that the negotiation process was not working by the number of people in the room.
“I want to thank all union members, community groups, and the public for their solidarity and support,” says CUPE 3766 president Jackie Christianson. “We had a great event…and made history!”
CUPE locals 650, 3766 and 4643 are trying to reach a fair collective agreement as their contracts expired December 31, 2010. They are seeking parity and fairness.