Striking school support workers had a chance to speak with Premier Tim Houston and MLA Tim Halman face to face when they showed up Halman’s office on Tuesday.
“With all due respect, you’re not rewriting history. You’re putting us back to the past decade,” Beverley Slaunwhite, an educational program assistant (EPA), said to Houston when he arrived with Halman.
“We are at the table,” Houston told the workers as cars drove past with drivers honking their horns in support. “We were at the table on Saturday. We would have been at the table Sunday. I believe in the collective bargaining process.”
“The negotiations are ongoing,” said Halman, who once worked as a teacher.
School support workers, including EPAs, library specialists, early childhood educators, assistive technology support workers, Mi’kmaw and Indigenous student support workers, African Nova Scotian school support workers, and community outreach workers have been on strike since May 10 when they rejected a tentative deal from their union.
‘Bad on so many levels’
As the Examiner reported on Thursday, the workers’ union was headed back to the bargaining table on Friday.
On Thursday, Michael Gorman with CBC reported that they obtained an email from Angela Kidney, the executive director of labour relations with the province, who wrote that there would be no “‘new’ money in any form to end this job action.”
In that letter, Kidney suggested that workers with the Halifax local rework their schedules to 10 months, so they can apply for employment insurance when school is not in session. School support workers in the province’s seven other regions work on 10-month contracts.
The Examiner reached out to CUPE 5047 on Tuesday and Natalee Boulanger, a representative from the workers’ strike committee, said talks continue. In an email, a CUPE 5047 representative told the Examiner the suggestion of turning to employment insurance when school isn’t in session “would be bad on so many levels.”
We fought years ago hard for salaried smooth bank pay. We work 10 months but our salary is spread over 12. This would be horrible for our members who have 2nd and 3 jobs, most likely they wouldn’t qualify for EI, not to mention the waiting periods, most would be heading back to work before they would even see their first EI payment!
‘I do this because I care’
In an interview with the Examiner after she spoke with Houston, Slaunwhite said she works as an EPA because the job “fills her soul.”
“It’s my passion. I will do this until I am 90,” Slaunwhite said. “I do this because I care.”
Slaunwhite, who earlier pointed out to Houston that most of the striking workers are women, said this strike was about “oppression.”
“You look around and we are a majority workforce of women. If we were firefighters, or bus drivers, or a majority of men, things would be different. I work with women who have three jobs. Single moms with young children and they make not even $750 every two weeks.”
“I do things, and all of us do things, in our day that none of these politicians would ever do.”
Stephanie Knoll is another EPA who joined the group.
“We thought we would be very visible on this corner,” Knoll said before Houston arrived. “We heard there might be an open house question period and we thought we definitely want our voice heard.”
Knoll works at Waverley Memorial with elementary school students. She said workers want to get back to the classrooms and students are “100% being hurt by this process.”
“We believe these children deserve support workers who are paid a living wage,” Knoll said. “They are important enough and these positions are important enough and valuable enough for society, for families, and for education, that this position deserves a living wage. These children deserve that and these workers deserve that.”
“I genuinely hope our elected government can realize that their voters want this solved and want this solved fairly.”