Noting that PC MLA Brad Johns once worked alongside them and should understand their struggle, a group of striking school support workers picketed in front of his Middle Sackville constituency office on Thursday.
“Brad Johns was an EPA (educational program assistant) at one point and carries now the title and the classification of library support specialist,” Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5047 president Chris Melanson said in an interview outside Johns’ office.
Although currently on a leave of absence due to his political career, Melanson said Johns, who is also the current attorney general and minister of justice, is still on CUPE Local 5047’s seniority list.
“We know that many of our members, many residents, many parents, have been reaching out to Brad to have a conversation. We wanted to come out and see if he wants to talk to us as well,” Melanson said.
“There’s nobody out there that should understand what we’re going through, and what we’re asking, more so than Brad.”
CUPE’s national president Mark Hancock also joined CUPE 5047 picketers in Middle Sackville on Thursday.
“Brad should know what it means to be an employee in a school district and how difficult it can be to support your family, to make sure that there’s groceries on the table,” Hancock said.
“I know he’s making a lot more money right now as an MLA, and maybe it’s just not first and foremost. But if he comes back, if he loses the next election and he comes back, the fact that these folks are standing up for better wages, for better conditions, that’s going to mean something to Brad if or when he goes back to work.”
‘This is a regional issue’
About 1,800 Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) school support workers (EPAs, early childhood educators, and other support workers, including library support specialists) have been on strike since May 10.
As reported here, the province offered school support workers a 6.5% raise over three years. While the province reached a tentative agreement with school support workers in the rest of the province, workers in HRM rejected the offer.
“They (province) shouldn’t be proud of the fact that they lifted seven other locals up to the level of poverty that we’re experiencing here,” Melanson said.
Melanson said members of his union local made it clear they didn’t want to accept the tentative deal agreed to by the seven other locals in the province.
“We have a much, much higher rate of inflation in the HRM. And everybody knows that. This is a regional issue that they should be able to address easily,” he said.
“We were asked to vote. The government said, ‘Your members should be able to accept this.’ And they can’t and there are reasons for it. That’s a concern, because we’re not talking.”
‘He was in the trenches’
Lisa Cormier is one of about 40 school support workers who showed up to Johns’ office on Thursday.
“He [Johns] would know what we’re going through. He was in the trenches,” Cormier said in an interview. “I’m at the point now where I’m just heartbroken by it all. We’re not asking for much. We just want to get back to work.
The EPA from Sackville Heights Elementary wore a sign that proclaimed ‘Inclusion is an Illusion.’ She said it was “devastating” that hundreds of children with disabilities remain unable to attend school as the strike continues.
“They need to finish the year. I had a little boy from our school come visit me yesterday. His mom brought him in his wheelchair,” Cormier said.
“They need to be with their peers and finish the school year. It’s gone on too long. It’s not right.”
Although they were hopeful he’d show up to his Middle Sackville office, Johns didn’t make an appearance.
Reached via phone and asked what he’d say to the striking school support workers, Johns’ comment was brief.
“I certainly understand and encourage them to go back to the table,” he said.
In response to criticism from CUPE on Wednesday that resolving the strike wasn’t possible without government at the table, Johns paused and then repeated his comment.
“I certainly understand and encourage them to go back to the table.”