School workers who haven’t seen a raise since 2015 took part in a lunchtime rally outside Henry Wise Wood High School in southwest Calgary on Wednesday.
“We’re understaffed, and we’re underpaid,” Clayton Gordon, president of CUPE Local 40, said. “Our members take great pride in their work, but they just don’t have enough time in the day to meet the expectations that they want to put out there and keep kids safe.”
Gordon said the union representing Calgary Board of Education workers in facility and environmental services has been in bargaining with the province to try to get better wages following an eight-year gap in pay increases and, more recently, high inflationary forces eroding buying power.
“We have full-time cleaners – they only make $21 an hour – and we have employees that make even less than that,” Gordon said. “With a living wage in Calgary being $23 an hour, we have lots of members that have to work two, three jobs to make ends meet.
“They have to rely on the food bank to feed their families.”
The average education support worker makes $34,300 per year and the average wage for educational assistants is $26,338.
The Statistics Canada low-income cut-off before tax for cities like Calgary and Edmonton was $27,514 for a single person in 2021. For two people, it was $34,254.
Wednesday’s demonstration included CBE workers with roles like education assistants, landscaping, caretaking and other staff responsible for school maintenance.
They’re the kind of workers who can be overlooked in the day-to-day school operations, but whose work would likely be sorely missed.
“What our jobs do impact with students is we give them a safe and clean learning environment,” Gordon said.
In a statement, the Calgary Board of Education said it values the staff members and their contributions to students’ education.
“We have recently commenced collective bargaining this fall with CUPE. The bargaining unit is approximately 800 members and is comprised of cleaners, facility operators, heavy duty mechanics, painters and locksmiths and seasonal workers,” the prepared statement reads.
“We are confident that we will be able to come to an agreement that is acceptable to both parties.”