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“We just can’t keep spreading ourselves so thin,” local EA says

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Cathy Dobson

Julie Green says she loves her job as an educational assistant but the pay is so low she works another two jobs to make ends meet.

As an EA in Lambton County, she’s a picket captain with CUPE 1238 and will be among the 1,600 local educational workers on strike Monday if the union and the government can’t agree on a new contract in the next four days.

“Being an EA doesn’t pay enough for me to put away for the future,” said the 53-year-old single mom. After 20 years with the Lambton Kent District School Board, Green earns $39,308 a year working one-on-one with children with special needs in the classroom.

Last summer, she did custodial and secretarial summer work for the board to bump up her earnings.  And after school, she puts in full-time hours as a server.  On top of that, she sells pet supplies to raise extra cash.

Her kids are grown but Green said it’s still necessary for her to work three jobs so that she will be able to retire and live above the poverty line.

“Everyone thinks we have a big pension but we don’t,” she said.

The latest pay raise offered by the Ford government was $1 an hour for each year of the collective agreement. That’s a 3.59% increase but Green said it’s not nearly enough.

“That means I’d get $35 a week more before taxes,” she said. “But with the government’s ability to cut jobs and positions, more work would be assigned to each of us, so it’s not a raise.

“It’s a bribe, and not even a decent bribe.”

Pay is a critical issue but so is job security and convincing the government that more educational workers are needed.

Three years ago, Kinnwood Central where Green works had 3.5 EAs. Now there are two, she said.

“We just can’t keep spreading ourselves so thin.  If I am sick, they only pay someone 80% of my wages to supply, so they can’t get people to do it.

“It’s like putting forest fires out all day at work because we can’t get enough EAs or ECEs.”

CUPE members in a strike position include custodians, early childhood educators, educational assistants, secretaries, library and computer technicians and other school-based and central staff members.

Across Ontario, 55,000 are poised to strike. Locally, there are 1,000 educational workers with the Lambton Kent District School Board and another 610 with the St. Clair Catholic District School Board.

“We are preparing to strike but hoping we don’t have to,” said Dave Geroux, president of the St. Clair Education Workers Local 4168.

“Wages are one issue but we are also pushing for proper staffing,” he said. “Kids need more support in the classroom. Some who need an EA full-time, only get one half-time.”

Geroux and CUPE Local 1238 president Michele LaLonge Davey said they have no plans to picket the schools, although both local boards say that schools will close down and students will be taught online if the strike occurs.

“We’ll be outside the MPPs offices,” Geroux said. “Our fight is not with the schools. It’s with the government.”

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