As the strike of educational assistants, support staff and other members of CUPE Local 441 enters the middle of the week, parents on the Saanich Peninsula are dealing with its effects in different ways.
“It’s tough,” said Kara Westgate, who has children aged 12 and 8. “You are losing out on pay and things like that, but I am lucky in that I have friends who are in the same situation, we kind of help each other. Personally, though, I don’t want it to go on forever because obviously that is a big financial burden – but I am all for the [educational assistants].”
One reason is personal. “I have a child who uses and needs the EA services,” she said. “It is ridiculous to me that they are getting paid that much less and that they are a district over where [EAs] are getting $4 or $5 an hour more. It seems pretty hard to get and keep decent staff for these kids. There a lot of kids who rely on these services.”
Westgate said most parents with whom she has spoken with support striking EAs and support staff. But that may change as the strike continues, she added.
For now, Westgate said her day-to-day routine has not changed that much.
“We have to shuffle a little bit, but I am still getting up at the same time and getting the kids wherever they need to be, and getting to work,” she said. “I have support. Not everybody is in the same boat. They need to find other places to put their kids.”
Those other options include paid programming through Panorama Recreation Centre and other private providers.
Westgate, who works in surgical bookings for Island Health, has currently paired up with another parent. “I had her kids yesterday at my house, and today, they are at her house,” she said. This said, the impacts of the strike go beyond affected families. “It’s not just me,” she said. “It impacts my co-workers too.”
So how do her kids feel about the situation? “They are fine with it,” she said. For her children, that is just another day off. But she sympathizes for older children, who may find their lesson plans disrupted.
Erin Bremner-Mitchell, a former Sidney councillor, said she is fortunate because she can work from home.
“I feel for all the parents, who have nine-to-five jobs,” she said. In fact, Bremner-Mitchell has been trying to help out as best she can by taking in the child of a neighbour, along with her two children.
“I created a little lesson plan for them,” she added.
Bremner-Mitchell hopes all parties will buckle down to find a resolution, but she has her doubts after watching a conversation between Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, and Rob Fleming, minister of education, Tuesday morning during question period at the B.C. Legislature.
Olsen said he hopes the ministry will use its full force to resolve the situation.
Olsen added pushing the issue back to the bargaining table is not an option because the disturbances are untenable. Parents and employers are scrambling to deal with the situation, which is also creating uncertainty.
“I am hearing this every day,” he said. “I have a tremendous amount of empathy for parents.”
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