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Union refutes claims in New Brunswick child and youth advocate report

Click to play video: 'Education worker rights prioritized over rights of children with special needs: N.B. advocate'
Education worker rights prioritized over rights of children with special needs: N.B. advocate
WATCH: The union representing educational assistants in New Brunswick is speaking out after a recent report said worker rights are prioritized over the rights of children with special needs. Child and youth advocate Kelly Lamrock made that assertion last week, but the union says it takes the rights of children seriously. Nathalie Sturgeon has more. – Mar 7, 2023

CUPE Local 2745 is responding to a recent report from New Brunswick’s Child, Youth and Seniors Advocate, which claims the government and union are prioritizing labour rights over children’s rights.

Kelly Lamrock released the report and it focused on the delicate relationship clause. It is a clause designed to maintain relationships between educational assistants (EAs) and children with special needs, and it helps maintain those relationships in the event of labour disruptions.

The advocate said his investigation revealed, in some cases, EAs were being bumped for seniority rights, and not on whether the child needed a sense of continuity.

Kelly Lamrock released his report last week and says while the union’s job is to represent it’s members rights, that can’t come at the expense of a child’s rights. Nathalie Sturgeon / Global News

He also found an inconsistency in when the department consulted professional advice on these relationships, something he described as “a clear violation of the child’s rights.’

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Lamrock said his office also found many districts were refusing to use the clause and not informing parents of its existence.

He accused both parties of bargaining away the rights of children for the sake of labour peace.

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Union refutes claims

But Theresa McAllister, CUPE local 2745 president, said that’s not true.

“That was a real shock to me,” she said in an interview Tuesday. “Because we’ve always had the best interest of kids at heart. We would never take away anything that would benefit them.”

She said seniority does play a role, known as bumping. An educational assistant can be bumped out of their position if there are layoffs or cutbacks for someone who has seniority within the union. McAllister said each case is handled individually, with all parties at the table to make the right determination for delicate relationships.

In 2008, the education department and the union negotiated the clause to help maintain delicate relationships with children who have special needs.

“If they are in a delicate relationship for that school year, they are OK to hold that position,” she said. “But after that, if you’re still there and I’m more senior, I have a right to take that position.”

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Ultimately, Lamrock recommended the department create a clearer policy for how and when the clause can be used. He asked it to track those relationships by region, including the reason the clause was accepted or rejected.

He also asked the department to complete a consultation and policy development process by September.

Lamrock, though, says all the recommendations are aimed at the government, emphasizing they are the employer.

He said there are examples of when the child’s rights were ignored by the union and the department in favour of someone’s labour rights, adding the union does place pressure on the government to prioritize seniority.

“The union doesn’t represent children. They don’t. Legally, when the interests collide, unions represent the worker. Government has to speak for the child. Government needs to do it better,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

“Could the union stop putting pressure on them to hurt children sometimes? Yes, I think the union should do that. But it’s government’s job to say no.”

He said the union has a right to protect its members, but not at the expense of a child’s rights.

Government response

Erika Jutras, a spokesperson for the education department, said it agrees with Lamrock’s recommendations.

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“We want to ensure every learner’s needs are met by providing them with the appropriate supports and services,” she said in a statement by email.

She said while there have been instances where the clause was used, the number is not large.

“When a delicate relationship between an educational assistant (EA) and a student with special needs is deemed critical to the well-being of the student, the district Education Support Services team can recommend the use of the “delicate relationship” clause to allow the EA to continue to support the student for the duration of the school year.”

Lamrock said he will be following up to ensure the recommendations are being worked on and hopefully implemented  for the new school year.

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