Alberta is a tough place for education workers. Per student funding is lowest among provinces in Canada, while the student-to-educator ratio is highest. At the same time, wages are low, with the average yearly income for education workers just $34,300. Education assistants are paid just $26,388, which is almost $200 below the Alberta poverty line.
Furthermore, the provincial government of Danielle Smith and the United Conservative Party (UCP) has not increased minimum wage for five years and has directed school districts to limit wage increases to just 2.75 percent over three years.
So, after eight years without wage increases, education support workers at Buffalo Trail School Division in and around Wainwright determined to win wage increases that smashed through the province’s guidelines.
The 230 workers, who are members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), recently ratified a new contract which provides almost all workers with a $3 per hour increase in the first year and nearly 6 percent in increased wages in year two. CUPE says that many workers will get wage increases of more than 20 percent over the life of the contract, with some increases as high as 25 percent.
When the employer pushed a weaker deal with smaller increases, the education workers spoke up loudly and clearly, saying that they would not accept the UCP directive and wearing purple shirts which protested their poverty level wages.
CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill said the wage victory was a result of the workers’ militancy and determination. “When workers fight back, we can and do win good settlements. Even when fighting government’s that want to restrict wage increases to less than inflation – we can win. We just did.”
CUPE is facing similar battles for education workers at almost 30 other school districts around Alberta. Gill said says that school board workers, who are fed up with poverty level wages, see the Buffalo Trail settlement as the bar which other districts need to meet.
[Photo: CUPE Local 1606]
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