Hundreds of Peel Region education workers terminated days before school year start, union says

The Peel District School Board said many terminated workers were not in compliance with conditions for employment. Global News

Almost 500 education workers, including educational assistants, were terminated by the Peel District School Board late last week, the union representing the workers says.

In an email to Global News late Friday evening, Melody Hurtusbie, president of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 2100, said over 300 educational assistants and over 100 early childhood educators were terminated last week.

According to Hurtusbie, the terminated employees were notified at 5:45 p.m. on Sept. 1, before the Labour Day long weekend.

“These actions wreaked havoc on my members, causing uncertainly and anxiety,” she said. “I heard from many of them saying that they had picked up long-term occasional jobs beginning on the first day of the school year and were now unsure if they were permitted to work.”

In a statement emailed to Global News on Friday, the PDSB said that during the COVID-19 pandemic it offered “flexibility to casual EAs, by way of extending the number of days required to work, beyond the collective agreement requirements.”

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“Such was done recognizing the shifting landcape during the height of the global COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.

The board said, however, in the “present context” schools have returned to in-person learning, adding that “all school boards have been impacted by high absenteeism rates.”

According to the board, it discovered some EAs on the casual list who had not worked for the PDSB at all, had not met the minimum working days requirement in the collective agreement, or who were “non-compliant” with the annual obligation to disclose their criminal background.

“Given the increase in operational requirement to cover absences, staff who did not meet their obligations in the three categories above, in particular those who had not worked for the school board at all were removed from the list,” the statement said.

Under the collective agreement, casual employees are required to work at least 40 days, while retirees must work at least 20.

However, Hurtusbie said the union requested a moratoruim on the article in the collective agreement regarding the work-day requirements, saying schools are “short staffed and have low absence fill rates and need as many casual staff as possible.”

“We are already short staffed and with additional budget cuts and funding shortages it has created a crisis of understaffing,” Hurtusbie said in the email.

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She said even without the casual staff, “there aren’t enough EAs to support the students in schools.”

However, the board said it has “incrementally increased” its hiring efforts to be year-round and said it has added “approximately 500 EAs to the casual list since the last school year.”

What’s more, the Ministry of Education said the PDSB reported around 2,260 full-time equivalent EAs for the 2023-2024 year, and the addition of 500 EAs to the list since last year.

The ministry also said the school board is projected to receive over $1.8 billion in base funding through the Grants for Student Needs (GSN) for the new school year, which includes an increase of over $32 million since 2023-24, as well as $227 million through the special education funding.

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