Albertans gathered in Red Deer to rally for education funding and fair treatment of support staff.
Canadian Union of Public Employees hosted a rally outside of Minister of Education Adriana LaGrange’s office Friday afternoon. The rally was organized by Joanne Lavkulich, president of CUPE Local 1825, which represents support staff Holy Spirit Catholic School Division in Lethbridge.
“I think there’s a general realization that funding for education has really dropped off and it’s really hitting the poorest of the poor,” said Lavkulich.
“We have people who make an average of $27,000 a year, which is pathetic. … It’s sad because we are so close to the poverty line and there’s no recognition of the work that the educational assistants, the librarians, the admin support do.”
It’s important to let the UCP government and the public know what’s going on, Lavkulich said, adding there’s “a lot of enthusiasm” for this cause because people are angry.
“I think the (turnout) we have today, and the (honking) from the drivers who are going past too, shows that there’s a recognition that what we are getting is not fair,” she said.
Katey Schmidt, an educational assistant, made the trip from Lethbridge to participate in Friday’s rally.
“I truly know and believe what we’re doing is making a difference. With all of our voices together, we can actually accomplish something,” she said.
The 29-year-old was forced to file for bankruptcy in the past, she said.
“I have to work two, three, sometimes four jobs. What I make isn’t enough,” said Schmidt.
“I’m also working with kids in my other job, so I get burnt out easily. I don’t always have the energy to bring each kid the things they need and deserve.”
Lavkulich said she gets sad and angry hearing stories like Katey’s.
“How can (the provincial government) feel that it’s OK to pay people so little? A number of years ago, an education assistant make twice the minimum wage. Now the minimum wage is $15 and we start our education assistants at $19.60. We have lost so much ground and so much buying power,” she said.
“I really feel for people in Katey’s position.”
CUPE represents tens of thousands of frontline workers across Alberta, including educational assistants.