The day before Premier Doug Ford is set to see Ontario’s new cabinet sworn in, frontline education workers delivered over 25,000 letters to his office at Queen’s Park. The letters call for more education workers in schools to guarantee that service improvements for students are in place come September and real wage increases above the rate of inflation to address low pay and retention difficulties.
“Frontline education workers are the backbone of every community’s schools with most of us working second or even third jobs to make ends meet,” said Laura Walton, president of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU). “Yet we’re paid only $39,000 a year on average while we personally subsidize Ontario’s education system by doing unpaid work outside of regular hours because staffing levels are so low we can’t get all the work done on paid time.”
“Whether schools are provided enough money to stop damaging cuts and to ensure that all students, especially students with special needs, have the right supports and services is a political choice made by our elected representatives,” said Walton. “Ontario is the richest province in Canada and the money controlled by only 59 billionaires has increased by more than $100 billion during the pandemic. There’s no excuse for this government to cut corners on our children’s future or for keeping education workers on the brink of poverty.”
The letter to the premier of Ontario, written and signed by education workers, reads in part:
“Even before the pandemic, understaffing among education workers was a problem in Ontario schools. Many school boards can’t recruit and retain qualified education workers, in large part because wages are so low and jobs so precarious.”
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have worked both in schools and off-site, at times risking our own and our families’ health and safety. We took these risks so that students could keep learning, schools would be kept secure, and families and communities had the support they needed.”
“A 2021 survey of CUPE education workers found 51% of us worked at least one additional job to make ends meet. This number increases to 64.5% for sole-income earners. Roughly 75% of our members are women for whom the gender pay gap is widening further each year.”
CUPE-OSBCU members also delivered copies of the letters signed by their local coworkers to 25 Progressive Conservative MPPs across the province on Thursday.
- 55,000 CUPE-OSBCU members work in virtually every job classification in education except for teachers and management. The contributions of every single one of these frontline workers is necessary to students’ success and chronic understaffing threatens schools’ ability to provide everything students need.
- Frontline education workers served notice to bargain with the Ontario government and Council of Trustees’ Associations (CTA) the day after the June 2 provincial election. CUPE-OSBCU members are ready to negotiate throughout the summer to reach a fair collective agreement that would avert classroom upheaval this fall. Workers are demanding that the government come to the table to commit, in writing and without delay, to the services and supports that students and workers need.
- The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) calculated that the Ford Progressive Conservative government cut education funding by $800 per student (adjusted for inflation) over its first term. With two million students in Ontario’s schools, that translates into a $1.6 billion cut in funding in the 2021-2022 school year – money that could be used to improve supports for students, increase staffing levels, and raise the wages of education workers.
- The past decade has seen education workers’ wages fall substantially below inflation. This is because of legislative interference with free collective bargaining that used the power of the state to limit wage improvements for the lowest-paid employees in the education sector. Bill 115 under the previous Liberal government froze wages for two years. Bill 124 under the current Progressive Conservative government imposed a strict limit of 1% increases per year for three years, even though all evidence pointed to the fact that this would be lower than inflation and was lower than the trends for other unionized sectors of the economy.
- The result of attacks on education workers’ wages and collective bargaining rights has been wage settlements from 2012-2021 that equal 8.8% (compounded) while inflation to the end of 2021 has totaled 19.5%. With inflation well over 7% in 2022 this will jump to a 17% wage cut for education workers.