Catholic school support staff on strike

Two local schools affected

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake’s two Catholic schools are scrambling to keep business as usual, thanks to a strike by support staff. Or – depending on which source you read – a lockout by the school division.

Either way, secretaries, teacher assistants, library clerks, custodians and maintenance people were not at their jobs as of Sept. 28. Instead, they were out front of St. Francis and St. Mary schools, displaying placards and waving flags.

In a press release earlier in the week, Living Waters School Division set out its position, saying its wage (or salary) offers were more than fair and stack up well against those from similar school divisions. It goes on to say that giving the current funding from the province, the money for more just isn’t there.

The increases offered by Living Waters reflect the above-noted belief that salaries are already good: zero per cent in each of the next two years, followed by a $300 lump sum payment in Year 3.

The Alberta Union of Public Employees obviously sees things differently. Representatives of the union spoke to The Leader earlier this year when they set up an information table outside St. Mary of the Lake School, during a visit by Premier Rachel Notley. AUPE Vice-President Rod Feland was one of them; he told The Leader the pay for support staff is not a living wage.

Feland also said the allocation of resources in Living Waters school division is skewed too much in favour of head office administrators, leaving “the people doing the work” trying to do too much with too little. For example, he said the superintendent gets a six-figure salary, while the average support staff salary is about $34,000.

Feland’s language got a lot stronger on the day of the strike/lockout. In a late-Friday release, he had the following to say:

“At every turn the Living Waters board has treated our members like they’re worthless and replaceable,” he said.

Feland also accused Living Waters of “pushing back against these monetary improvements for two-and-a-half years now, and their justifications continuously fail to tell the whole story.”

The schools will remain open during the strike. St. Francis principal Angie White told The Leader in an email that “We are reviewing programming with students’ safety and health being a priority.”

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