As education workers discuss possible strike, lawyer says EAs should be paid more

As educational assistants (EAs) and the provincial government disagree over wage increases, a Windsor mother is fighting alongside the workers who help her children.

« The public would say $39,000 sounds like an ok salary to get by, » said Megan Ball Rigden, a public health and education advocate whose two children have autism. « But we have to remember that these are other women with families, these are women with their own children with special needs and they are capped at a certain number of hours. »

A vote on the strike mandate among the province’s education workers, including EAs, began Sept. 23 and ends at 6 p.m. this Sunday.

According to the head of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions (OSBCU), which represents about 55,000 education workers in the province, including librarians, custodians and administrative staff, a large number of members have already voted.

« I think that’s really important because it shows how many workers are speaking up and saying enough is enough, » said OSBCU President Laura Walton. « Whether or not a strike happens will really depend on this government. »

EAs are paid an average of $39,000 a year, according to their union. They are only allowed to work 35 hours a week and paid 42 weeks a year. The rest of the time they are fired.

In an earlier statement to CBC News, a Department of Education spokesperson said EAs earn an average of $49,000 a year, including pension and benefits.

The ministry statement also says the union is proposing a 33% wage increase over the next three years and other pay-related increases.

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, public school trustee Gail Simko-Hatfield and Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Andrew Dowie (LR) in front of a school under construction in Windsor. Lecce said more than $125 million has been committed by the provincial government to build schools in Windsor-Essex. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce was in Windsor on Tuesday to talk about how the provincial government is spending money on new schools in Windsor-Essex.

« We appreciate this [EAs] do,” the minister said. “So much so that we have increased funding for nearly 5,000 additional staff working in our schools.

A woman wearing a green shirt, suit jacket and glasses
Laura Walton, president of the Ontario School Board Council of Unions, says education workers and parents are unhappy with the provincial government’s reluctance to negotiate. (TJ Dhir/CBC)

Along with Windsor-Tecumseh MPP Andrew Dowie, Lecce said the province has spent more than $125 million building schools in the area.

When asked by CBC News if $39,000 was enough for EAs and what they were doing, Lecce didn’t answer the question directly. Instead, the minister mentioned that the province was willing to offer an 8.24% wage increase on their current salaries.

Education workers are demanding a $3.25 per hour wage increase.

Walton says the provincial government’s offer isn’t enough to make ends meet for those feeling the pinch.

« Eight percent is 33 cents an hour, » she said. “For someone earning six figures like the Minister does, he must think eight per cent sounds good enough. But when you’re struggling to put food on the table, when you have access to food banks, when you’re struggling to pay rent, and you’re not even eligible for a mortgage, there’s a big deal and a huge disconnect. »

Windsor Morning8:31education workers

Laura Walton, President of CUPE’s Ontario School Board Council of Unions, talks to CBC Windsor Morning host Nav Nanwa about education workers.

Gale Simko-Hatfield, public school trustee for Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8 in Windsor, declined to comment on negotiations but said EAs are very important to support teachers in the classroom.

« There aren’t enough people to fill those positions right now, » she said. « There is a labor shortage in education and I think part of the reason is that our school boards’ pay rate is so much lower than in the private sector and it’s so much lower than in our advice coincides. »


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