CUPE concerned for Sask.'s education support workers' safety during pandemic

Some staff have been told they can work from home, some have been told they have to show up to work and others have been given direction from individual principals.

Officials with CUPE say directions for support staff have been confusing

The union representing support staff in Saskatchewan schools is calling for its members to be sent home during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

The union representing support staff in Saskatchewan schools says its members are being put at risk, as some of them are still being asked to report to work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) said in a news release that support staff — who range from educational assistants and library supports to caretakers and bus mechanics — are getting mixed messages, with some being allowed to work from home and some being told to show up for work on site.

The union is calling on the Ministry of Education to instruct school divisions to send workers home, calling it "irresponsible and reckless" to have workers in schools. 

"Education workers are not immune to this pandemic," said Jackie Christianson, president of CUPE 3766, which represents support staff at the Regina Public School Division.

CUPE members across the province are feeling uneasy, she said.

"They're anxious. Many of them didn't get any sleep on Sunday knowing they had to go to work on Monday."

Christianson said she would usually not be calling for such extreme measures, but that the situation is unprecedented and needs an unprecedented response.

"This pandemic is not a local autonomy issue," she said. 

"How do you mitigate risks or safety in that many different possible plans or scenarios?"

Asked for an interview, the Ministry of Education provided a written statement. 

"School divisions are following the recommendations of the Chief Medical Health Officer as it relates to reducing the potential for the spread of the COVID-19 virus," the statement said.

The statement said divisions are working with staff to develop "return-to-work protocols" that follow the provincial guidelines, including options to work from home, staggered physical presence in school buildings and limiting the size of gatherings to a maximum of 10 people.

CUPE 8443 is the largest education-support staff union in the province, representing 1,100 support workers from pre-kindergarten to Grade 12 in the Saskatoon Public School Division. Scott Barrett, CUPE 8443's president, said the pandemic is affecting everyone differently.

"It fluctuates from member to member," he said. "We have people who are really scared and rightfully so. Some people who are confused about what the future holds, but overall I think our members are really handling this well."

In the statement, the Government of Saskatchewan said school divisions have been told their operating grant will continue despite schools having been closed for the rest of the year. 

"Our expectation is that no one will be negatively affected," the statement noted. "Staffing decisions are made and communicated to employees at the division level." 


  • A previous version of this story said CUPE 8443 represents 7,000 support workers in the Saskatoon Public School Division. In fact, it represents 1,100.
    Apr 02, 2020 5:36 PM CT