One day before Premier Doug Ford is scheduled to announce his next cabinet, frontline educational support workers delivered tens of thousands of letters to his Queen’s Park office — as well as to various constituency offices of Progressive Conservative MPPs across the province.
At 10 a.m. Thursday, members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals 3987, 1310 and 4340 — the frontline education workers of the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board (SMCDSB), Simcoe County District School Board (SCDSB), and Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir — gathered at the Bell Farm Road office of Barrie-Springwater-Oro-Medonte MPP Doug Downey, where they delivered packages containing hundreds of letters from members across the region.
The letters, explained Jamie Cleroux, president of CUPE Local 3987, representing SMCDSB educational support workers, reference wage increases, improved working conditions and how these workers have fallen behind.
“We went through a long period of wage freezes,” he told BarrieToday, noting support staff are approximately 12 per cent below their counterparts working in the private sector. “We here today represent custodians, but CUPE represents all support workers.”
A custodian for the last 13 years, Cleroux currently works at a school in the south end of Barrie, and said educational support workers ensure school buildings are secure.
“We don’t just clean the floors and clean the desks. We do fire alarm tests, we change filters. If the fire alarm goes off, we are the last ones out of the building,” he said. “We are the first ones in every day and the last ones to leave.”
Speaking for custodians specifically, he continued, they ensure the operation of a school building runs smoothly, while other support workers, such as office administrators, educational assistants, early childhood educators and tech support, ensure everything is handled for the teaching staff.
“We have had a lot of different things added to us. We have had a lot of stress and been short-staffed. We are ensuring that schools are safe and clean. This has all been downloaded on us,” he said. “We have people (working) overtime because they want to help out our schools and we feel we are broken and are not valued.”
Approximately 85 per cent of the membership signed the letters, he noted, adding he hopes it will help bring awareness to what is happening.
“We will see who is going to be heading up education … and I certainly hope it’s not Stephen Lecce, who never attended a public school and doesn’t know what goes on in a publicly funded school,” he said.
Misty Archer, president of CUPE Local 1310, which represents SCDSB custodial and maintenance members, told BarrieToday approximately 75 per cent of its membership signed letters delivered to Downey’s office Thursday.
“Our members are getting frustrated that they’re not getting the respect they deserve (and) the wages they deserve (for) staff to be able to fully and adequately be able to do that job within the schools of the Simcoe County District School Board,” said Archer.
They hope their efforts Thursday will push their local representative to stand up for them at Queen’s Park, added Cleroux.
“Whether we voted for him or not, he represents the people in this riding. What are you going to do to help us? What is your government going to do to make this right? What are you going to do to help education support workers get what they deserve?” he asked.
When contacted, Downey directed BarrieToday to his office. In a call to the Barrie constituency office, a reporter was asked to put the request in writing via email. That inquiry asking for a response or comment on the letters that were delivered off Downey’s Barrie office was then forwarded to representatives at the Ministry of Education.
“After two years of pandemic disruptions, our number one objective is making sure students catch up both in terms of their learning as well as their physical and mental health. That starts with them being back in the classroom, on time, with the full school experience that includes extracurricular activities,” ministry spokesperson Grace Lee responded.