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OPSEU/SEFPO stands in solidarity with Peel Region Education Workers 

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OPSEU/SEFPO stands in solidarity with members of Local 2100, working as Educational Assistants (EAs) at Applewood Acres Secondary School in Mississauga, who put in work refusals last week due to safety concerns resulting from inadequate PPE.

While most classes have been closed during the worst waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, those serving students with special needs – many of whom require more personalized and hands-on educational support – have remained open at great risk to front-line education workers.

While we understand the importance of in-person learning in these special circumstances, our union has repeatedly called for enhanced PPE to keep our members safe while at work – often in close contact with mask-exempt students providing personal, behavioural and medical support.

We’re now one year into the COVID crisis. The fact that EAs are still being provided with ill-fitting and inefficient PPE is unacceptable. Peel Region is currently facing the worst concentration of COVID cases in the entire province. As EAs working in a hotbed community like Peel, our members have every right to be concerned and to demand better PPE and a safer work environment. We’re here to support you.

It is unacceptable that staff’s safety concerns, which were communicated weeks ago – and prior to the school’s post-April-Break reopening – were completely ignored by the Peel District School Board (PDSB). It is no wonder that the Ministry of Labour has issued compliance orders against the school board under Ontario’s Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA).

Accordingly, the school board has been ordered to take every precaution reasonable to protect workers, to provide more supplies, and ones that actually fit, to provide more information and better training, and to reassess the risks of workplace violence in special education classrooms to protect workers.

Annual workplace violence risk assessments are the law. The fact that the PDSB had not done one since 2018 represents a serious failure to perform due diligence.

It should have never come to this. We are in the midst of a global health crisis. Employers must be held to a higher standard, especially when workers’ lives depend on it.

So, as we continue to monitor the situation closely to ensure that the Ministry’s compliance orders are obeyed, we issue the following warning to other employers: take heed and lead by example. Proper PPE saves lives; this isn’t the time to scrimp and save, and ultimately, put workers’ lives at risk.

At OPSEU/SEFPO we will continue to support our education workers, and to demand safer workplaces for all.

As the union representing nearly 8,000 education workers across Ontario, we recognize your fierce compassion and dedication. So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for everything you do. We understand the risks you face on a daily basis and we’re here to demand respect for front line heroes like yourselves.

In Solidarity,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas

Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida
OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer