February 23rd, 2024

Education support workers to rally for better pay

By Steffanie Costigan - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on February 8, 2024.

Education support workers are calling for fair pay because they say they are unable to live off poverty wages they are receiving within Alberta.
Local education support workers will be joining their counterparts across the province on Saturday with a rally to bring attention to their message that current are lower than the poverty line with workers making only $26,388 per year.
The rally here will be staged at Henderson Lake starting at 1:30 p.m.
Joanne Lavkulich, Chair of the Alberta Education Employees Committee and president of CUPE local 1825, Holy Spirit School Division said the rally is not against the schools, but rather against the limiting policy the Alberta government has put on the schools and support workers.
“It’s not a protest against the schools. It is a protest against the government, saying we need more funding. And it’s also to be able to let the school divisions use the funding in the way that they can or the way that they choose,” said Lavkulich.
Educational support workers include the education assistants, administrative support, library workers, early learning assistants, custodial, maintenance, grounds workers, members in trades such as plumbing or electrical, bus drivers, and many other jobs within the schools.
The overall average wage of all these groups is $34,400 but the living wage is $40,400, says the AEEC.
The average wage of an education assistant in Alberta is $26,388 while the poverty line is $26,550, says the AEEC.
Lavkulich said the Alberta government brought in regulations making it difficult for educational support workers to bargain for fair wages.
“The first piece of regulation said that we can no longer bargain fairly with our employer, so that we could just bargain with the school division. But the first thing that happened was that they cut education funding severely.
“That meant there was a lot less money coming into the schools. Then they said that we can’t bargain with these conditions without having government oversight. And they demanded that every single employee in the schools take a three per cent cut in their wages for the first year of a contract – and contracts usually go for four years – then they would get zero per cent,” she said.
Lavkulich said the minimum wage in Alberta has increased by 54 per cent within the last 10 years while the wages of educational support workers have risen 0.97 per cent.
This is concerning given inflation rates.
“The average wage for an educational support worker has gone up 0.97 per cent. Inflation is running at about 25 per cent (to) 24.6 per cent. Having an increase of 0.97 per cent means that $100 10 years ago is now worth about $66 in buying power. So we have just lost so much money.”
She said educational support workers are having to take on more than one job to pay for living expenses and many educational support workers, despite having to work two to three jobs, are still having to visit food banks, sometimes on a weekly basis.
“We have, especially with the increase in mortgages and inflation in the last little while, we now have people who are losing their homes because they can’t afford the mortgage anymore. They are having to move into cheaper accommodation…
“We have members who are using the food bank on a weekly basis, not just sometimes but on a weekly basis. And they’re carrying two or three jobs, which means that they’re not home to be with their own kids because they’re all doing their other jobs,” said Lavkulich.
Lavkulich said it is hard for schools to recruit education support workers due to low wages and the constant cutbacks in work hours along with jobs.
“It’s hard to recruit people to come to work for the poor wages. People can’t afford to live on such poor wages. So they’re finding jobs in other in other areas because they can’t afford to work in the school system. And also, they keep cutting our hours, we have layoffs, and we have reductions in hours.”
She said class sizes have grown dramatically in Alberta yet the province has the poorest per student funding system within Canada.
“When you build new schools and have a young population that’s growing, the education system just is not keeping up. And then when you find that were the poorest per student funding in Canada, that’s not (how it should be) – we’re a rich province.
“We’re still a rich province, we’re still revenue rich. And last year we had an $11.6 billion surplus. And yet we can’t get a fair deal from the government,” said Lavkulich.
Lavkulich said other rallies have taken place in Calgary, Red Deer and Edmonton.
She expressed the message they hope to send to the Albertan government:
“It’s to show our dissatisfaction, to show that something needs to be done. And I think it comes down to public awareness too because people They are not necessarily aware,” she said.

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