OVERVIEW

CUPE represents early childhood educators, assistants, cooks, and cleaners in the sector in both stand-alone and multi-sector locals. The bargaining units tend to be small and the wages low. The employers can be not-for-profit volunteer-run boards, charitable, parent-run boards, or for-profit.

  • Number of members working in child care or ECE: 12,000
  • Number of bargaining units: 98

CUPE represents over 2,600 members in dedicated child care centres. CUPE also represents many early childhood educators (ECEs) delivering child care programs in other sectors such as education and municipal services. We represent 2,020 school-aged child care members in Quebec who are employed by school boards. In Ontario, we represent almost 4,500 full-time equivalent ECE members who deliver the full-day kindergarten program. In British Columbia, we represent 350 members who deliver the Strong Start early learning drop-in program helping prepare children for kindergarten. Many Ontario municipalities deliver child care programs directly; CUPE represents about 5,000 members employed in their child care centres. We also represent child care workers at universities and colleges that directly provide child care services. Finally, many multi-service agencies deliver child care programs where CUPE represents the members.

In total, CUPE represents approximately 12,000 members who work in the sector or work delivering ECE programs. We represent members in the child care sector for every province except Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, which are primarily not unionized.

FUNDING AND GOVERNANCE

Canada-Wide Early Learning and Childcare Plan

In the 2021 federal budget, the Canadian government announced its long-awaited Canada-Wide Early Learning and Child Care plan, designating $30 billion to bring parent fees down to an average of $10-a-day across the country. The Canadian government also intends to invest $9.2 billion in regulated child care per year starting in the 2025-26 fiscal year, with a future objective of reaching a 50/50 cost-share with provinces.

The agreement is the most significant federal financial and policy commitment to childcare to date. It means that child care centres across Canada will receive substantial public funding for the first time ever, and each province will work toward a universalized system based on common principles, bilateral agreements and action plans developed in partnership with Ottawa.

The federal child care plan is a hard-won victory resulting from decades of tireless advocacy by CUPE members, child care advocates, and women’s organizations.

In addition to lowering parent fees to $10-a-day by the 2025-26 fiscal year, the federal child care plan aims to reduce average parent fees for regulated childcare centres. Most provinces agreed to reduce parent fees by 50 per cent by December 2022, although some provinces are currently deciding upon different timelines of implementation, and this target does not apply to Québec where parent fees are already highly subsidized.

The federal child care plan features other broad goals to work toward a universal child care system, such as the following:

  • Create 250,000 new child care spaces across the country and support not-for-profit child care operators to increase availability of licensed child care spaces.
  • Ensure investment in ECE wages and provide them with training and development opportunities needed to support their growth, which will in turn support higher quality child care.
  • Improve access to high-quality, accessible and culturally appropriate child care. For example, invest $29.2 million in child care centres to improve their physical accessibility and $2.5 billion over five years in child care for Indigenous children.

After the federal government announced the new child care plan in the spring of 2021, they proceeded to negotiate bilateral agreements with all provinces and territories. By August 2022, they finalized and signed the agreements.

While the federal government’s plan for a universal child care system was initially celebrated for its commitments to substantial long-term federal funding and its focus on expanding the not-for-profit child care sector, advocates have raised several concerns about the promises of the bilateral agreements.

There is wide concern about the federal government’s big promises to improve the quality and expansion of child care without addressing systemic workforce problems. Bringing down parent fees is easy to implement, but provinces won’t meet their expansion targets if they don’t address the current shortage of child care workers and they lack plans to attract new ECEs with better wages, benefits, and pensions.  

The federal government has made no commitment to demand that provinces create
wage grids for ECEs and all staff that establish minimum wages and sets out increases over time. Their Multilateral Early Learning and Child Care Framework proposes to improve the quality of child care by increasing the number and proportion of child care operators who have certified ECEs or workers who participate in professional development. Yet, recruiting and retaining qualified workers will remain difficult if wages remain stagnant. In order to meet the federal government’s promise of 250,000 new child care, the provinces will need to attract more than 40,000 new workers to the sector.

The workforce crisis was made worse by child care centre closures during the COVID-19 pandemic and most provinces are neglecting to develop a workforce strategy to attract and retain new staff. Currently, only Manitoba and the Yukon have established new, liveable wage floors for ECEs. Other provinces, such as Saskatchewan, BC, Alberta, and P.E.I, have made commitments for wage enhancements and only some provinces have plans to establish a wage grid in the next year.

Child care advocates are also concerned that provincial governments will permit a rapid expansion of for-profit centres even though the federal plan is to build the non-profit child care sector. Global child care corporations are looking to expand in countries like Canada and provinces are capitulating to their demands. For instance, the Ontario government recently removed profit caps, auditing requirements, and they reduced oversight on operator spending to incentivize for-profit participation in their child care plan. Other provinces, such as Nova Scotia, announced that they will limit funding to not-for-profit operators who reduce their fees and join the province’s compensation framework for ECEs. However, they will allow for-profit operators to access public funding if they abide by the same provincial rules.

Experts of public and universal child care systems warn that for-profit child care operators keep wages low and they are less likely to deliver high-quality, accessible and equitable services. They fear that the federal government’s plan will not fully take profit-making out of child care if the provinces give in to for-profit operators’ demands. There is the potential for provinces to significantly drift from the commitments in their child care agreements and they will fail to build the national plan for a more accessible, affordable, and high-quality child care system. Child care advocates insist that provinces must establish accountability requirements for government funding to child care operators and the federal government needs to lay out a detailed plan to expand public and non-profit centres.

CUPE will continue to build sector-wide advocacy for publicly delivered, universal and accessible child care, and support sector-wide advocacy for improved wages, benefits, and working conditions in child care.


ISSUES

Unionization

A 2013 report, You Bet We Still Care!, conducted by the Child Care Human Resources Sector Council, showed 21.5 per cent of child care staff identified themselves as union members. Unionization is highest at 30 per cent in Quebec, where the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) is the dominant union. In BC, unionization is at 29.4 per cent; the government employees’ union (BCGEU) represents the majority of the sector. CUPE represents the largest number of members delivering child care and early childhood education services in child care centres as well as other programs.

Unionization rates for child care workers remain low. The You Bet We Still Care! study found a number of key differences between unionized and non-unionized child care employees and their workplaces. These included higher staff retention and job satisfaction, higher wages and benefits, and better workplace practices.

Wages

Without adequate public funding, child care workers’ wages and working conditions are poor. However, child care workers who are unionized have better wages and are more likely to have pensions and benefits. The average ECE wage for CUPE members across the country is $25.61/hour, with the lowest wages in Manitoba ($18.60/hour) and highest wages in Alberta ($27.90/hour). Wages for non-unionized ECEs and non-certified ECEs tends to be much lower, often near or just above the provincial minimum wage.

Pensions

Pension coverage for the unionized child care sector is low outside of Quebec and BC CUPE locals have made some headway with the Multi-Sector Pension Plan (MSPP) in Ontario and Manitoba. Just over 53 per cent of CUPE members in the child care sector have access to a registered pension plan, although only 22 per cent have a defined benefit plan.

BARGAINING

CUPE has worked to create structures and strategies that provide more effective coordination, bargaining, and campaigns for the child care sector. In Nova Scotia, CUPE is working with allies to campaign for provincially funded ECE wages and working standards. Ontario child care sector members are represented on the social services workers’ committee and also support the provincial child care coalition. One large local in Toronto has 30 sites and represents 350 members. In Ottawa, one local represents approximately 300 child care workers at 13 centres and has set up a common bargaining table. One local is representing all the workers for the private-for-profit centre Kids & Company across Ontario. Manitoba has a local representing around 90 members at five child care centres. Although CUPE represents few child care locals in BC, they are covered under province-wide community services bargaining. Outside of the Ottawa and Toronto locals and BC, coordinated bargaining in the sector is rare.

The not-for-profit child care sector is under extreme pressure. Many locals face pressure for concessions at the bargaining table, despite the need to make significant bargaining gains. Locals are facing two-tier proposals for both new hires and casual employees.

CAMPAIGNS

CUPE has been a leader in campaigns for child care, working in coalition with many groups, including Child Care Now.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, members across the country have conducted emergency campaigns to address the crises of child care centre closures and struggles of operators retain current staff and recruit new staff. CUPE members have fought against decisions by municipal councils to shut down their child care centres and layoff staff due to financial pressure on municipal budgets.

The announcement of the federal child care plan has resulted in a renewed calls to increase the wage floor for ECEs and all child care staff. ECEs in Nova Scotia recently rallied in Halifax in response to government delays in implementing a new wage package for them. CUPE and the Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care (OCBCC) conducted a campaign called Rising Up for Child Care to bring attention to these workforce issues and call for a $30/hour wages for ECEs in the Canada-Ontario child care agreement.

In British Columbia, where there are only enough spaces for about 20 per cent of children, many parents are left without child care options or see kids shuffled between facilities throughout the day. CUPE is campaigning to build seamless child care throughout the public education system including universal, quality childcare for all school-aged children.

The integration of before- and after-school care into the school system using the seamless day model of early learning and child care would significantly increase available child care, while delivering a very high quality, value-added system of early childhood education.

CUPE has also been involved in anti-privatization campaigns, including campaigns focused on the large for-profit corporations that threaten the development of a strong public national child care program.

CUPE’s child care sector has been engaging in the campaign for Migrant Rights. CUPE recognizes the intersection of child care work with the need for landed status and better working conditions for migrant workers.