School Support Workers Lead the Way

Our members who work in our provincial public education system have historically made different salaries with not-so-different job descriptions. Whether they are an Educational Assistant, Early Childhood Educator, a Student Support Worker, in IT, or a Clerk or Secretary, they were paid differently depending on where in the province they worked. Despite years of trying to close that gap in bargaining, we had never managed to level the playing field – until now.

This fall, members in the Annapolis Valley Regional Centre for Education (AVRCE) and South Shore Regional Centre for Education (SSRCE) took a stand and said they deserve the same wage for the same work as someone living in Halifax or Cape Breton.
On October 24th at 8 a.m., Local 73’s picket lines went up in Windsor, New Minas, Berwick and Annapolis Royal. Our message on Twitter conveyed the feelings of the local: “Strike has begun for support workers at the AVRCE at picket lines throughout valley. Members are missing their students and not happy to have to strike but feel they have to stand together now. @nseducation @allthingsannapolis #Nspoli #support4supportworkers.”

Members of Local 70 began their strike a day later, at 8 a.m. on October 25th. Picket lines went up in Chester, Liverpool and Bridgewater. The members expressed similar sentiments of wanting to get back to school to support their students. They didn’t want to be on strike, but they had to do it. They marched together in rain and shine and wind and were able to grow community support for the important work they do and their fight for parity.

We Lobbied!
Off the picket lines, plenty was happening behind the scenes to apply pressure to both the employers and government officials. The union created radio spots and took out advertisements in The Chronicle Herald and in community newspapers to help the public better understand why school support workers were on strike. An online letter-writing campaign was also launched, which saw almost 1,500 emails sent to the Premier, Minister of Education and Opposition leaders. Parents of students affected by the strike began speaking out in the media in support of the workers. Momentum was beginning to build.
On November 1st, members of the bargaining committees of both Local 70 & 73, along with two picket captains, accompanied NSGEU President Sandra Mullen on a visit to the Nova Scotia Legislature as the New Democratic Party Education Critic and MLA for Cape Breton Centre-Whitney Pier, Kendra Coombes, asked Education Minister Becky Druhan to commit to paying school support workers across Nova Scotia the same wage for the same work. Minister Druhan wouldn’t commit to this, contrary to her earlier statements supporting parity.

We Rallied!
We held an extremely effective rally at the provincial Legislature in downtown Halifax on Thursday, November 3rd. Buses full of members danced and chanted around the Legislature, and were joined by throngs of supporters, media, and politicians from all parties, who wanted to hear more about their fight for parity. The energetic display of support on the streets outside the Legislature definitely amped up the pressure on government to come to the table with an acceptable offer.

We Won!
On November 8th and 9th, members of Local 73 (AVRCE) and Local 70 (SSRCE) voted to end their strike and ratify a tentative agreement recommended by their bargaining committees. The new agreement achieves what the members were asking for: wage parity with workers doing the same job elsewhere in the province.
This principle of parity will now spill over into public education contracts throughout the province. This will mean a great deal to many employees and their families.

Our members of Local 70 and 73 stood up and won!
The story of this victory is really the story of every victory in collective bargaining. It is the story of people standing up for what is fair and refusing to accept less. Congratulations to the members of Locals 70 and 73 and a big thank you to all those who showed their support along the way.
Meanwhile, our members of Local 74 had begun to organize with Picket Captains and were getting ready to join Local 70 and 73 on the picket lines. In the end, they didn’t need to do that, as the strike created the pressure needed to reach a tentative agreement at their table. The terms of the tentative agreement were acceptable to the members of Local 74 as well as they ratified their agreement on November 22nd by 100%.

We Received So Much Support!
Our members were overwhelmed by the support they received from the community. Their students joined the picket lines, parents came out to support, and local businesses showed their love in many ways including donations of food and much needed coffee. There were cakes, and gift cards, and sandwiches, and soup… from businesses and people too numerous to mention. It was amazing and inspiring to see and feel the love for these workers, who are often overlooked in the workplace and community.
Labour leaders were out too, including the President of the Teachers’ Union and the President of the Nova Scotia Federation of Labour. Politicians like the NDP President Claudia Chender, MLA Suzy Hansen and MLA Kendra Coombes (just to name a few). All of this helped us to achieve a tentative agreement.
We created videos to document and share the strike with the members and public. You can view them here:

Day one on the picket lines in the Valley.
South Shore Strike Begins:
Chender, Hansen & Cavanagh visit the picket line:
NSTU President visits striking workers:
Parents and Students Support Day:
Stay Strong: Halloween:
To support the strike, we also created some ads that ran on the radio and in print:
Radio Ad 1:
Print Ad: The Chronicle Herald:
Press Releases:
SSRCE vote to ratify agreement –
AVRCE vote to ratify agreement –
AVRCE called back to table –
Education Minister dodges parity question in Legislature –
Education Minister must explain her concept of parity –
AVRCE in violation of province’s guiding principles of inclusion –

Our members’ actions and press releases resulted in some great media coverage. Here are some highlights:
No pre-primary classes in Annapolis Valley, South Shore –
QCCR News & Update –
Global News – Parents, students join striking school workers –
Radio-Canada – Parents and children join striking school support staff –
Kirsten Malone – When Teachers Go on Strike –
CTV – N.s. school staff set to head back to bargaining table –
CTV – School Workers on South Shore join strike –
CTV – video –
CTV – striking workers rally –
Global – hundreds of school staff strike –
Saltwire – Wage disparity at heart –
Saltwire – AVRCE school support ratify –

*This article appeared in the Fall/Winter edition of The Union Stand.

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