CUPE members can no longer make ends meet

'I have three jobs so I can support my children and myself'

By Kirk Winter

Sandy Dunham, a picket captain and communications pillar for the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 997, told the Lindsay Advocate in a telephone interview that the educational assistants, secretaries, custodians, IT staff and payroll clerks represented by CUPE can no longer pretend to make ends meet on the money they are currently earning.

Dunham, who has been an educational assistant for 24 years, earns $23.31 per hour working a 35-hour week with no opportunity for overtime or advancement. CUPE members are not paid for the summer holidays, and it is often difficult for members to get on full-time with the Trillium Lakelands Board of Education.

“We are the backbone of the school system,” Dunham said. “We are predominantly women. Many of us are single parents. We are an older demographic as younger people have not been attracted to this work because it is at best precarious work.”

“I have three jobs so I can support my children and myself,” Dunham said. “I work two 13-hour shifts at a group home on the weekends and offer private respite care for parents at other times. 55 percent of educational assistants work multiple jobs. Staff is burning out. When you work multiple jobs that is a lot of time away from your family.”

“I would never do this job again if I knew then what I know now,” Dunham said. “We work for the third lowest paying board in the province. There are times we have to wear Kevlar vests at work for our own protection. I have been pinched, hit, slapped, mooned, sworn at and stabbed with a compass. Despite all this I love working with “at-risk” kids who need someone to look out for them.”

“Depending upon the situation, we are also a social worker, nurse, bouncer and a shoulder to cry on for the students we work with,” Dunham said.

“We want a $3.25 an hour raise for each year of the contract period,” Dunham said. “We run from one class to the next to support our students the best we can. Support for these students continues to diminish. We need all the people we have and more. Over the last 10 years we have received an 8.5 percent raise while inflation has run at 27.3 percent. We have been living in poverty the last 10 years.”

Since early June, CUPE has been in direct negotiations with the provincial government. They have met 13 times. No agreement has been reached and as of Monday this week the provincial government passed legislation imposing a contract on CUPE rather than continue negotiations with raises of approximately 2 percent for each of the four years  the contract is imposed.

Despite the legislation stating that CUPE may not strike, and if they do their union will be fined thousands of dollars a day by the province, CUPE is moving forward with job action beginning on Friday.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said, in response to CUPE’s actions, “Immediately following proclamation of the Keeping Students in Class Act, we filed a submission to the Ontario Labour Relations Board in response to CUPE’s illegal strike action. Proceedings started last night and will continue today.”

“Nothing matters more right now than getting all students back in the classroom and we will use every tool available to us to do so,” said Lecce.

For Dunham, she said the fight is “not with the local board.”

“As of right now we will not be picketing schools. We have reached the end of our rope and CUPE will stay out for as long as it takes,” Dunham said.

Bill Campbell, CUPE 997 president, told the Advocate that the strike vote locally was 98.2 percent with 93 percent of the 850 TLDSB membership participating in the decision-making process. Campbell said the union has been gratified by the e-mails and phone calls they have received from other unions, parents and members of the general public.

“We have been working at this for a year to make sure our membership understands what the issues are,” Campbell said. “We were expecting back to work legislation but no one saw the invoking of the not withstanding clause for a labour disagreement. If the government’s stated goal is to keep children in the classroom this legislation has failed. All it will do is shield them (the ruling Conservatives) from legal repercussions in the courts.”

We will be picketing members of provincial parliament’s offices and there will be a gathering at Queen’s Park on Friday,” Campbell said.  “We are excited that other groups will be picketing with us.” 


  1. John cooper says:

    This is a biased and political report. Please post news not opinions

    • Patricia Teskey says:

      It is valid journalistic practice to interview people who are directly involved to learn the reasons for their actions. Notice that people on both sides of the issue were interviewed and their words placed in quotes. Excellent article.

  2. Linda Bates says:

    I retired in 2012 as an EA after 22 years making $22 an hour. She is making $23 after 24 years. The numbers do not lie.

  3. Wallace says:

    EAs and ECEs are most certainly underpaid — cops and fire ‘fighters’ , are over paid. Time to stop over paying some groups and start paying others fairly. Does a cop really deserve 130k+ per year for what they do? (look at the sunshine list – 130k is on the low end) 10 of them show up to any minor disturbance and stand around with their arms crossed , talking about their weekend plans– its a joke….. Do fire ‘fighters’ really deserve 125k+ per yr for what they do? (look at the stats regarding numbers of home fires these days… they are essentially glorified amateur paramedics ) —- ECEs and EAs deserve more, other wise there will be none in the near future. There are 1000s waiting to be cops/fire ‘fighters’ because they are easy jobs with incredible pay and tons of time off—Time to use common sense when paying these public service employees and stop paying the biggest salaries/benefits to the ones that scream the loudest about how important they are.

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