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'Can't make a living': Alberta's education support workers call for raises

Education support workers from across Alberta are calling on the province to increase their wages in the wake of rising inflation and the reality that many of their colleagues don’t make enough to survive.

An education support worker includes anyone who helps students with learning disabilities or special needs along with custodians, maintenance workers, administration support and bus drivers.

The workers, who are part of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), say that the average wage for K-12 support staff is just $34,300 annually. Educational assistants who work with special needs students in classrooms make even less at $26,388 per year on average.

Alberta’s poverty line currently sits at $26,550 and while inflation has increased 22 per cent over the past 10 years in the province, the wage increase for these workers overall has been 0.97 per cent.

“I love the kids, I love the parents and the teachers, and I work hard to keep the schools clean and well run, but I can’t make a living,” said Abbie Mitchell.

Mitchell has been a custodial worker with the Calgary Board of Education for the past 11 years, but has never had a pay increase.

Katey Schmidt, an educational assistant in Lethbridge, is working two jobs just to get by and is looking for a third.

“I love working with kids, they teach me things every day,” said Schmidt.

“But I don’t know how much longer I can handle the stress of juggling two jobs and barely keeping up financially.”

A special rally Wednesday at James Fowler High School in Calgary is encouraging supporters to wear purple T-shirts in solidarity with those calling for higher wages.

In a press release from CUPE Alberta, the union says these workers are worth “more than zero per cent.”

“A mandate from the UCP government to reduce wages by three per cent, followed by years of zero per cent was changed to zero, zero, zero and finally 1.25 per cent and 1.5 per cent for five years,” read the press release.

“An average increase of a mere 61 cents per hour over five years.”

CUPE Alberta president Rory Gill adds that positions for these jobs will sit vacant in schools because of the inability to attract new staff.

“Funding has dropped, and school districts are told to keep wage increases to zero,” said Gill.

“It’s time for the province to let us catch up.”

According to the Alberta Teachers' Association, Alberta ranks last among provinces in Canada in per student funding.

CTV News contacted the office of Finance Minister Nate Horner and received the following response:

"Bargaining for education support workers is a local matter between the union and individual school boards throughout the province." Top Stories

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