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Thomas in Ottawa Citizen: education workers deserve better

Warren (Smokey) Thomas in a blue suit standing at a podiu
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In an op-ed in The Ottawa Citizen, OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas demands that the Ford government abandon Bill 124 and instead invest properly in our schools so that educational assistants – and all education workers – can give kids the support they deserve.

“EAs – like hundreds of thousands of other public sector workers in the province – are already terribly underpaid for the crucial support they provide,” Thomas writes. “Adding to the injustices of Bill 124 are the facts that the vast majority of EAs are women, and that they are facing an alarming increase in violence and abuse.”

You can read and comment on the op-ed by clicking here.

And here’s the full text:

Thomas: Ontario’s educational assistants deserve proper pay and support

In an editorial on Jan. 18, the Ottawa Citizen said educational assistants (EAs) are “saints,” and I couldn’t agree more. With tireless passion and professionalism, they struggle against challenges every day to make our classrooms as safe, stable and successful as possible.

But while the Citizen editorial doesn’t take the next logical step, I will: Premier Doug Ford and his cabinet ministers are at fault for the disruptions that parents, students and communities are facing. And it didn’t have to be this way.

And it’s all because of this government’s heavy-handed and ham-fisted Bill 124, limiting public sector wage increases to one per cent, denying front-line public sector workers, the majority of whom are women, their constitutional right to collectively bargain.

Interestingly enough, at the same time the premier crows about an “on fire economy,” he cries old Mother Hubbard when it comes to supporting workers who earn around $40,000 a year.

His one-per-cent edict means about a $1-a-day increase for the people who provide care and supervision for Ontario’s children in a classroom setting. Ford is paying upwards of $60 a day to parents of these very children so he can take on the teachers. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense or cents, unless of course the payment is a bribe aimed to bust the unions.

EAs – like hundreds of thousands of other public sector workers in the province – are already terribly underpaid for the crucial support they provide. Adding to the injustices of Bill 124 are the facts that the vast majority of EAs are women, and that they are facing an alarming increase in violence and abuse.

Imposing pay cuts against inflation isn’t just an insult to them, it’s an insult to every parent and person in the province. It’s a clear message from the government that it places a higher value on the rich people benefiting from tax cuts than it does on investing in a safe and stable learning environment for educational workers and kids.

Like the teachers in other unions, the educational assistants and other educational workers in our union are at the table in good faith, trying to bargain hard for the tools they need to do their best work, including appropriate pay and reasonable class sizes.

But Bill 124 hobbles them. It’s not right. It’s not fair. And it’s not going to do anything to make our school system better.

For that, the government needs to start investing. And not just in our schools.

Ask yourself this: Why are EAs facing increasing attacks and violence from the kids they’re trying to help?

It’s because there are tens of thousands of kids languishing on waiting lists for mental health treatment, developmental support and autism services. They have to go somewhere while they wait, and that’s into our classrooms.

EAs are trained to help kids who need extra support, and that’s just what they want to do. But as class sizes go up, there are simply too many kids with too many needs. They get frustrated and they lash out. EAs bear the brunt.

So the EAs and the other education workers go to the table demanding better. Better class sizes. Better training and safety equipment. And, yes, better pay.

And how do Ford and his cabinet ministers react? Like trained seals, repeating their speaking points. The truth is, they should be saying, “Sorry, our tax cuts for the rich and our corporate pals means we just can’t afford it.”

In the end our educational assistants will be there for our kids, because they truly are saints. Can the premier say the same?

Warren (Smokey) Thomas is President, Ontario Public Service Employees Union.