School support staff call for respect

Support staff in the Chilliwack school district are tired of feeling like they're the second rate citizens of the district.

Support staff in the Chilliwack school district are tired of feeling like they’re the second rate citizens of the district.

At Tuesday night’s board of education meeting, Rod Isaac, president of CUPE Local 411, implored the district for equality of all staff.

“CUPE has been told over and over that all employee groups are equal but if there is true equality between the employee groups, why are we the only employee group not receiving a paid spring break this year?” Isaac asked.

When the district approved a two-week spring break for the 2010-11 school year, some support staff lost a week’s pay.

That’s not the only inequality issue facing district support workers, said Isaac.

The wage gap between district staff is huge.

An online database of wages for public sector workers, compiled by a Vancouver newspaper, showed 300 employees in the Chilliwack school district making $75,000 or more a year for the 2008-09 school year.

“And surprise, surprise not a single solitary CUPE member showed up on that list,” said Isaac.

CUPE members include bus drivers, maintenance workers, tradespeople, custodians, school secretaries, clerical staff and educational assistants (EA).

Their wages range from $20,000 a year for part-time EAs and clerical staff to $50,000 a year for a trades foreman.

Some support staff have had to obtain second and third jobs to meet the costs of living. And CUPE itself set up a benevolent fund for those employees in dire financial need, which is almost always used up to the full extent.

“Our CUPE executive often gets questioned by our members why some employees get such high wages, and we have been told through the years by various board members that we have to pay high salaries to get highly skilled people,” said Isaac. “Does the board not consider CUPE staff as highly skilled or trained?”

Even though the local board doesn’t negotiate wage increases for the local support workers as that’s a provincial responsibility, Isaac hopes his words will resonate down the line.

“We are not asking for a wage in this scale [of $75,000 or more], just an increase in wage that reflects our abilities, hard work and dedication in support of students, staff and the operational needs of this school district,” said Isaac.

“I still hold hope that someday there will be more equality amongst all employee groups.”

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