Education support workers joined in solidarity this past weekend for a rally to raise awareness about the lack of funding for education workers in southern Alberta. Organizers say education support workers have gone too long without wage increases.
Spearheaded by locals for Lethbridge School District, Holy Spirit School Division and custodial and maintenance workers of the Palliser School Division, the rally saw supporters gather at Henderson Lake.
President of CUPE Alberta Rory Gill says education locals from southern Alberta and from other sectors were rallying to let people know there’s a crisis in education, “which is turning into a catastrophe.”
“Wages for public education support workers have been stagnant for at least five years. Many workers haven’t had some in eight or 10 years. We are talking about people who haven’t had raises.”
What the government is offering at the bargaining table, Gill says, is insulting. “The wages are too low. These are folks who take care of the most vulnerable people in the education system. They’re so dedicated to making sure the kids are taken care of and the schools are safe. That the kids they work for have the support, but they’re not being supported.”
Gill notes education assistants are especially underpaid in the province, and some are making less than $27,000 a year, and the average education worker in Alberta is making just over $34,000 a year.
“We know that’s low. It’s almost impossible to make a living as a support worker on one single paycheque. Many of these folks, if not the majority of them, have two or maybe three jobs to keep going. They are dedicated to making sure kids have what they need in the education system, but no one is dedicated to helping them. We want the people in Lethbridge and the people in Alberta to know this government can solve this problem tomorrow,” says Gill.
Gill adds the wage asks are reasonable and the goal is to bring employees to a living wage. “The government is sitting on a surplus. They’re also funding private education in this province to the tune of nearly $400 M a year. If you want your kids privately educated that’s fine and that’s your choice. But the taxpayer should not be subsidizing that. All taxpayer money should be going into the public education system.”
Gill believes Alberta has one of the best education systems in the country, if not the whole world.
“It’s because of the people showing up every single day working. It’s time for the politicians to do their job and get this problem solved. Get these people so they can have a living wage. They’re not asking for millions of dollars. They’re just asking for one job they can support themselves with and they’ll take care of the rest. They’ll make sure our kids have the education they need.”