School workers protest low wages, education funding

CALGARY – Education support staff across Alberta will wear purple t-shirts in schools today to raise awareness of low wage levels and the enormous positive impact these workers have on learning, childrens’ lives, and communities generally.

The workers, members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) say that the average wage for K-12 support staff is just $34,300 per year. Educational Assistants, who work with special needs students in classrooms make even less just $26,400 on average.

Educational workers have not had a cost-of-living increase in over eight years. Inflation has pushed many wages below poverty lines. Across the province, positions are vacant in schools because wages are not high enough to attract new staff.

Abbie Mitchell is a custodial worker at the Calgary Board of Education. She has worked there for 11 years and has never had a pay increase. She says she loves her work, but she can’t make a living.

“I love the kids, I love the parents and the teachers, and I work hard to keep the schools clean and well run, but I can’t make a living,” said Mitchell.

Katey Schmidt is an Educational Assistant in Lethbridge. She has never had a wage increase. She works two jobs to make ends meet and is looking for a third.

“I love working with kids, they teach me things every day,” said Schmidt. “But I don’t know how much longer I can handle the stress of juggling two jobs and barely keeping up financially.”

According to the government’s own figures, there are fewer Educational Assistants working in schools today than there were last year.

Figures from the Alberta Teachers’ Association show Alberta ranking last among provinces in Canada in per student funding.

CUPE Alberta President Rory Gill called on the UCP to improve wages for school workers. “Funding has dropped, and school districts are told to keep wage increases to zero,” said Gill “It’s time for the province to let us catch up.”