School support staff march across Halifax bridge as strike drags on

Halifax school support workers march across the Macdonald Bridge on Monday. (Josh Hoffman/CBC - image credit)
Halifax school support workers march across the Macdonald Bridge on Monday. (Josh Hoffman/CBC - image credit)

Hundreds of school support staff for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education marched across the Macdonald Bridge on Monday as their strike nears two weeks since it started.

More than 1,800 members of CUPE Local 5047 have been off the job since May 10.

"We need higher wages. Thirty-seven cents more an hour isn't enough," said Tanya Spellman, who has been an educational program assistant for eight years.

Wages are the main sticking point between the two sides. The union is asking for a four-year contract that includes a raise higher than what the HRCE was offering — 6.5 per cent over three years. The union has not publicly shared its wage request.

"Enough's enough," said Lynn Grant, who is also an educational program assistant.

"These families are hurting."

Josh Hoffman/CBC
Josh Hoffman/CBC

Employees on the picket lines included early childhood educators, educational program assistants, assistive technology support workers, child and youth care practitioners, Mi'kmaw and Indigenous student support workers, African Nova Scotian school support workers, SchoolsPlus community outreach workers and school library specialists.

Union members marching across the bridge spoke about keeping spirits high as the strike continues.

"We're feeling drained and a little overwhelmed," Spellman said. "We're trying our hardest to keep morale up."

Only CUPE members in the Halifax area are on strike. Two weeks ago, they voted to reject a tentative agreement that had been reached by the province and their union last month.

"It costs a lot more money to live in HRM than it does in, say, Yarmouth or parts of Cape Breton," said Tammy Jakeman, another educational program assistant.

Josh Hoffman/CBC
Josh Hoffman/CBC

Jakeman said she and her colleagues sacrificed a lot during the pandemic to ensure their students still received the same level of education and support while learning from home.

Now support staff are in a position where they can't be there for their students and it's been very challenging, Jakeman said.

"We've had a couple low days, I'll be honest," she said. "I found out recently that a couple of the students who I support got suspended because I wasn't there to help them with their behavioural needs."

Replacement workers

Halifax Regional Centre for Education announced last week it will be hiring replacement workers for striking staff.

A spokesperson for the centre has contacted seven local recruitment agencies and is using MaxSys to help find workers.

The centre won't say how much it will be paying replacements.