By Justin Seward - Lethbridge Herald on February 13, 2024.
Education support workers from all over the province rallied along Mayor Magrath Drive in front of Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden Saturday to send a message about not being able to live off poverty wages they receive in Alberta.
Education support workers include 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 Alberta Education Employees Committee.
The average wage of an education assistant in Alberta is $26,388 while the poverty line is $26,550, says the AEEC.
“They’re here to let people in Lethbridge and let people in Alberta know that there’s a crisis that’s turning into a catastrophe in public education,” said Rory Gill, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) -Alberta division president.
Gill says many of these folks here have not had a raise in five, six, and even 10 years.
“That’s a series of governments making decisions to underfund, to cut in public education and the bill’s coming due,” said Gill.
“Our folks are there every single day doing whatever they can for kids in Alberta and they’ll keep doing that. But the politicians, Danielle Smith, the UCP, (Demetrios) Nicolaides the education minister, they’ve got to step up and do their jobs and realize that if we don’t fund and if we don’t pay people living wages in the education system, we’re going to lose that amazing system we have.”
Gill said many of the folks who participated in the rally have two, maybe three jobs and there’s a limit to human endurance.
“What I find in education, health care, caring professions like that, you get a job there, if you don’t like it, you’re splitting two weeks and you go on to something else or you stick with it (the) rest of your life and that’s who we’re seeing here,” said Gill.
“These are people dedicated to taking care of kids but there’s a limit to human endurance like I say and they can’t go much further. Unless we see a serious increase in wages, folks are going to have to leave the profession. We’re already seeing that now.”
Gill said Alberta is not in fiscal crisis, but a governance crisis.
“We have a substantial surplus that even this government is not going to be able to hide and we also have, like I say, money going to services and sectors that don’t deserve it. “So there’s lots of money in Alberta, there’s lots of ways we can make our system better and that’s why we’re out here today.”
Rachel Wittke has been an educational support worker locally for five years, and said schools couldn’t be open without them.
“Yet we are always the last factored in when education is discussed,” he said.
Being a single parent of three children, Wittke doesn’t have time for other jobs.
“It’s a huge struggle obviously because the cost of living is incredibly high,” she said. “We haven’t had a wage that has kept up with the cost of living and we haven’t had a contract in two years.”
Local teacher Jennifer Samayoa, who was also at the rally, said to not have any kind of increase in all that time, when inflation has gone up so much, is cruel.” She added support workers are integral to the classroom.
“They are a huge support not to just the single student or couple (of) students they work with, but all of the students have some sort of relationship with them.”
-with files from Steffanie Costigan