Education support staff feeling left behind in teacher labour talks

By Haley Ritchie
August 5, 2015 Updated : August 5, 2015 | 6:50 pm

 Labour talks between teachers and school boards have been in the spotlight for months, but support staff working in schools say they’re tired of being sidelined.

 That’s the message Sherry Wallace, vice president of CUPE Local 2357, wants parents to hear as her union, representing other education workers, goes into bargaining.

 “The government is constantly talking about the teachers but for some reason they feel support staff aren’t as much of an issue,” said Wallace. “We’re constantly under the radar.”

 CUPE represents a range of 1,500 non-teacher workers at the Ottawa-Catholic School Board, including educational assistants, early childhood educators, office administrators and library technicians. They often make half of what teachers are paid, and most are 10-month contract employees who are laid off in the summer months.

 The group hasn’t had a contract since August of last year and are still trying to negotiate salaries, benefits and safety concerns around working conditions. 

 CUPE sought help from a provincial conciliator last week after they were told central bargaining dates wouldn’t take place until after the school year began. Education Minister Liz Sandals said the government is committed to reaching a solution.

Wallace said workers feel sidelined.

 “We want parents to know we’re part of the school system. We don’t want to go on strike but we do want to matter in this bargaining process,” she said.
Wallace said over the 11 years she’s been helping special needs students in the classroom cutbacks have doubled or tripled the workload.

 “If we’re caring for four or five children we’re just putting out fires and making sure everybody is safe. We’re just coping. It’s no longer about that social and emotional learning that students require,” she said.