The City of Toronto today announced it is marking “School Crossing Guard Appreciation Week.” The announcement comes less than a week after the city’s General Governance Committee voted in favour of changing vendors and laying off roughly 350 school crossing guards.

“I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry,” said Myra Chico, President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5519, who represent half the city’s crossing guards. “We worked through the pandemic, we face all the city’s road rage, we keep the kids safe in all weather. If the City truly appreciated us, they’d bring us in-house instead of making us the victims of contract flipping.”

Crossing guard services had been provided by the Toronto Police Service. In 2019, when responsibility was handed back to the City of Toronto, the city chose to contract out to two private security companies. Next month, when the contracts end, half the guards will lose their jobs as their employer’s contract flips to other providers.

“This proclamation is disingenuous at best. If workers are valued, you don’t treat them as disposable,” said Dave Petten, chair of CUPE’s Ontario Municipal Workers Coordinating Committee. “This is a problem across Toronto – the City contracts out services like crossing guards and respite shelters and keeps workers in poverty by dangling the threat of contract flipping over their heads. It’s a system that hurts workers and hurts the quality of services.”

Because of the threat of losing contracts, workers are afraid to advocate for better working conditions, Chico told the city committee last week before the vote. That means that issues relating to student safety often go unreported, particularly in non-union settings.