SASKATOON: More than 6,000 Saskatchewan school support workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) want the same provincial bargaining rights and benefit coverage as teachers, says union spokesperson Omar Murray following a provincial meeting of education workers in Saskatoon.
Unlike teachers who negotiate provincially, school support workers bargain locally in Saskatchewan – a reality that has created enormous inequities across school divisions.
“We have more than 60 different collective agreements in the K-12 education sector with very little uniformity,” says Murray, the vice-chair of CUPE’s Education Workers’ Steering Committee, which represents teacher aides, school secretaries, caretakers and other school workers across the province. Only half of the school workers represented by CUPE, for example, have 100 per cent employer-paid extended health benefits, notes Kim Aschenbrenner, a CUPE school support worker in Saskatoon.
“Most rural school support workers are either paying half the cost of benefit premiums or have no coverage at all,” she states.
In contrast, teachers, who are covered by a provincial collective agreement, have a comprehensive employer-paid benefit package that includes vision, dental and extended health.
“It’s terribly unfair that our members – many of whom only earn $14,000 - $18,000 a year – have to pay to get any benefit coverage at all,” says Murray, a school bus driver in Maple Creek.
Although CUPE education workers have sought provincial bargaining rights for the past decade, Murray believes the union’s case is more compelling now that CUPE represents nearly 70 per cent of school support workers in the province.
Over the last year, CUPE’s organizing drive in the K-12 education sector has attracted more than 800 additional school support workers to the union – including 168 school support workers in the former Saskatoon East School Division who joined CUPE on April 3. CUPE now represents 6,100 school support workers in the province, up from 2,500 a decade ago.
Murray says CUPE school support workers are committed to achieving provincial bargaining rights and provincial benefit coverage, but hopes they won’t have to wait another 10 years to realize these goals.
“It just makes so much more sense to bargain one provincial agreement with uniform wages and benefits than dozens of local ones,” says Murray. “I’m hopeful the provincial government will recognize the wisdom of this too – sooner rather than later.”
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For more information contact:
Kim Aschenbrenner in Saskatoon at 382-8262
Omar Murray in Maple Creek at 662-2051.