School employees demand livable wage, improved work conditions

Local frontline workers represented by CUPE deliver hundreds of letters to Sault MPP Ross Romano’s office Thursday

Unionized frontline education workers across Ontario are sending thousands of letters to the premier’s office this week as they push the province to increase wages above the rate of inflation in order to address low pay and problems with retaining staff.

Members of CUPE locals 16 and 4148, representing frontline education workers of Algoma District School Board and Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board, delivered hundreds of letters to Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano at his Bay Street constituency office Thursday afternoon.

Kitchen worker Judy Leffler says she was making around $ 18 an hour when she first joined CUPE Local 16 – a union representing 175 custodians, maintenance workers, tradespeople and cafeteria staff at Algoma District School Board – back in 2006.

“My wages went up four dollars in 16 years, but yet minimum wage has went $ 7 within that time,” said Leffler, a recording secretary and picket captain for CUPE Local 16. “We’re not teachers, but we’re the first on the scene, last on the scene, keeping the school safe.

“We’ve worked through everything. We’re here for the kids, and we just think that we deserve to have more of a raise. Our contract is up at the end of August, and it does not look well for us. ”

A recent report prepared by the labor union, informed by survey responses from more than 16,000 CUPE education workers, suggests that Ontario education workers are the lowest paid in the sector, earning $ 39,000 per year on average.

Leffler says Ontario has placed frontline workers in a “10-year wage restraint.”

“Our gap is getting further and further. We’ve got a member that’s 72 years old that has to work a second job just to make ends meet, ”she said. “For us, this was a good job back in the day – and now, we can’t even keep any of our tradesmen. Our people are having to go out and get two or three jobs.

“We’re just looking for support.”

Workers are also seeking improved working conditions through increased staffing and decreased class sizes as job burnout becomes more and more common among frontline workers, says CUPE Local 4148 President Crystal Krauter, whose union represents about 500 caretakers, clerical workers registered early childhood educators and educational assistants at Huron-Superior Catholic District School Board.

“We deserve better, our families deserve better. The students deserve better, ”Krauter said.

At least 25,000 letters from frontline education workers who are members of CUPE’s Ontario School Boards Council of Unions are expected to be delivered to Ontario Premier Doug Ford at his office in Queen’s Park.

Copies of the standardized letter addressed to the premier were signed by 80 per cent of CUPE Local 16 membership and 70 per cent of CUPE Local 4148 members.

“This is what we’re going to ask, if Ross Romano would be kind enough to bring these forward to Doug Ford for us,” Leffler said.

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