LETTER: IT worker says many school employees rely on second jobs

“I have friends and co-workers who can’t afford their rent, have moved back in with their parents, or rely on loans and food banks to make ends meet,” says a CUPE official amid contract negotiations with the province

BarrieToday welcomes letters to the editor at [email protected] Please include your full name, daytime phone number, and address (for verification of authorship, not for publication). The following letter from Todd Canning is in response to the “LETTER: Education Workers Union Says ‘Half-Truths'” published September 24th. Member of Central Bargaining Committee of CUPE Ontario School Boards Council of Unions (OSBCU).
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When schools closed during the first wave of the pandemic and students switched to online classes, information technology (IT) departments worked overtime.

Many teachers taught from home. Some principals also worked remotely. But my IT colleagues came to their York area schools every day to make sure the students had devices and internet access so they could connect with their classmates and keep learning. Within weeks we were part of the creation of an entirely new virtual elementary and secondary school system that thousands of students have taken over to continue their education during the height of the pandemic.

We prepared and distributed 20,000 laptops and coordinated data plans for those without reliable internet. We helped teachers use webcams and trained them to set up online classes. And we’ve worked with concerned parents, answering questions to keep their tech running smoothly while we’ve navigated uncharted waters.

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IT departments usually only notice when something goes wrong, when servers crash or devices don’t work. I have spent almost 20 years in IT services for the York Borough Education Board. I’ve never seen anything like the mobilization in the early days of this pandemic – but I’ve seen the same commitment throughout my career.

IT staff share the same drive as our peers in schools across Ontario. We are there because we believe in the transformative power of education and want to serve our communities. That’s why we do it. Whether in a classroom or behind the scenes, I’ve heard many describe working in education as a calling.
But dedication and commitment don’t pay the bills. On average, my 55,000 colleagues and I make just $39,000 a year, and that’s unbearable for anyone.

More than half of education workers have a part-time job to make ends meet. I have friends and co-workers who can’t afford their rent, have moved back in with their parents, or depend on loans and charities to make ends meet.

Educators are early childhood educators who guide play-based learning that helps our youngest thrive; educational assistants who provide individual attention so that all students receive the support they need; caretakers, handymen and maintenance workers who keep schools safe and clean; library staff and language and music teachers who inspire countless students; Office and IT staff whose work keeps the school running smoothly.

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These are important, meaningful tasks. But they are not fairly remunerated or adequately resourced.

The results of years of government cuts have been painful to see. We have schools in the area that are only cleaned every two days, where one pedagogical assistant is in charge of hundreds of students, where for the last year an average of 180 pedagogical assistant and designated teacher positions have remained vacant every day.

Schools cannot recruit or retain workers, and students suffer as a result.

That’s why my 55,000 colleagues—all education workers who are members of CUPE’s Union Council of Ontario School Boards—are currently negotiating in our negotiations with the provincial government and the Council of Trustees’ Associations (CTA) for the common good.

For years, the provincial government has bled our schools dry. They cut money and staff. They have limited services. We will change that.

Our proposals are reasonable and affordable. In addition, they are necessary for the well-being of our students and the health of our communities.

We want to ensure services for all students. We want to turn these precarious, underpaid jobs into careers that people can stay in. And we want school boards to have the consistent workforce that enables all children to thrive.

That’s why we’re asking for a $3.25 pay increase for each year of a three-year contract. This fair raise would help education workers keep up with high inflation after a decade of government-mandated wage cuts. It would allow many of us to survive with a full-time job and would ensure school boards could recruit and retain the staff they need to provide the services students need.

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IT workers – like the 6,400 other frontline education workers in York’s public and Catholic schools – want to focus on students and not fighting with the provincial government to secure resources after so many years of cuts. We got into this industry to offer our communities the best schools we can. Our students deserve it.

But the Ford administration cut funding for schools by $800 per student in its first four years in office. That’s $1.6 billion missing from schools last year alone. It is time for them to stop the cuts and we are negotiating to force the restoration of some of these funds to make schools better for children, families and workers.

Education workers have a good suggestion on the table. It is useful, necessary and affordable. Doug Ford and Stephen Lecce have the power and the means to accept this proposal. They could and should do that today.

Todd Canning
CUPE Ontario School Boards Council of Unions, the education workers’ central bargaining committee

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