Province did the right thing in pushing back in-person learning

Charlottetown – Four union locals representing more than 1 300 education sector workers breathe a sigh of relief as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that PEI schools have pushed back in-person learning to January 17, 2022.

Before Tuesday’s announcement by Dr. Morrison, students were to return to classrooms for in-person learning on January 10. This deadline had education workers worried about the students’ and workers’ safety.

“The four union locals (CUPE Locals 1145, 1770, 1775 & 3260) had productive talks with the Director of the Public Schools Branch and the HR Director this morning, before today’s announcement,” said Karen Tsistinas, CUPE National Representative. “We were concerned with the potential return to work next week and discussed the consideration of pushing back the in-person learning date, as we felt rushing this jeopardized workers’ and students’ well-being and safety,” she added.

The education system is a unique structure. Following COVID protocols is not easy, as you can have at times 70 students on a bus over 20 students in classrooms, and many students moving to and from class. “The union and the employers are committed to finding solutions to minimize these numbers to reduce overall contacts.  The concerns of staff and student safety and the need for specific guidelines are of utmost importance and must be adhered to by both staff and students in order to safely administer a Respite Program. Members are anxiously waiting to hear what this program will look like and getting back to working with their students,” said Karen Tsistinas, CUPE National Representative.

“Management has been receptive to the concerns we bring forward on behalf of our members and we are pleased to maintain the collaborative approach we developed during the pandemic. Staff is looking forward to being back with the students and working with them in a safe environment,” added Tsistinas.

In the meeting, directors committed to providing human resource support for all categories of work, including increased short-term staffing. “As we are examining their January 17 plan, we are relieved to see there has been some thought put in to deal with the workload increases and addressing shortfalls in staffing ahead of us,” concluded Tsistinas.

  • CUPE Local 3260 represents over 800 Educational Assistants and Youth Service Workers, Student Attendants, Workplace Assistants, and English Language Interpreters in the PEI school system. Carolyn Vandaele is the president.
  • CUPE Local 1145 represents more than 350 school bus drivers. Jason MacKinnon is the president.
  • CUPE Local 1770 represents over 130 administrative support workers. The acting president is Sawyer Murphy.
  • CUPE Local 1775 represents over 340 property maintenance workers in schools. John Doucette is the president.

Pride Month: LGBTQ2+ students on the Island deserve a safe learning environment

CharlottetownJune 15, 2021 –  CUPE PEI expresses grave concerns over reports that LGBTQ2+ students were faced with harassment and intimidation at the East Wiltshire School in Cornwall. CUPE PEI reiterates the importance of safe spaces in PEI Schools. Our members are committed to doing our part to make schools a safe environment for all students and employees.

On Monday morning, CUPE PEI leadership was present at the peaceful vigil in support of LGBTQ2+ students at the East Wiltshire School: “I was happy to see so many folks from the community and members of CUPE local 3260 representing educational workers,” said Leonard Gallant, President of CUPE PEI.

“There was a lot of noise made about the recent events, and that’s good. It means we, as a society, are confronting the ugly truth that we should be doing better to end discrimination against LGBTQ2+ students,” he added.

CUPE PEI is committed to fighting discrimination and hate in our workplaces and in our communities. “We must work every day to ensure everybody can work and study in an environment free from prejudice, harassment, bullying and intimidation,” said Gallant.

Every year, CUPE celebrates June as Pride Month. “Pride month is not just a time to celebrate, it’s also a time to reflect and to recommit ourselves to fight against all forms of oppression against LGBTQ2+ people. There is still much progress to be made,” concluded Gallant.

CUPE PEI Concludes its 41st Convention

CUPE PEI concluded its 41st annual convention – it’s second virtual one – on Friday, May 21, 2021.

More than 100 guests, observers and delegates representing CUPE locals from across the province, participated in the Virtual AGM, which began Thursday night.

Friday, many strong resolutions were passed, such as the following :

  • Lobby government to Increase affordable and accessible housing, including co-op housing for all Islanders
  • Lobby government to Bring the paramedic service in-house and have it under the Department of Health.
  • Lobby government to incorporate Health and Safety training as part of the school curriculum during the years of grade 7 to grade 9.
  • Ensure government proclaim April 28th as the “Day of Mourning for Persons Killed or Injured in the Workplace” in perpetuity on Prince Edward Island.

The convention delegates also reiterated the Division’s commitment to push for a Universal National Pharmacare program.

On the Federal labour front, delegates voted to endorse the Team Unite slate (Bea Bruske for President, Lily Chang for Secretary-Treasurer and Siobhan Vipond for Executive Vice-President) for the coming Canadian Labour Congress Convention elections.

Following resolutions, CUPE National President Mark Hancock and National Secretary Treasurer (NSTO) Charles Fleury delivered speeches. Both reminding us all just how much the pandemic showed cracks in our social safety net and the need to improve public services for all Islanders.

At this year’s convention, the union donated over $11,400.00 for the Easter Seals, a not-for-profit organization, working in partnership with persons with disabilities.

After Regional Director Sandy Harding addressed the convention, elections were held and the positions were filled:

  • President (Leonard Gallant, 2-year term)
  • Secretary-Treasurer (Linda Jones, 2-year term)
  • Health Care East Employees (Bobby Kennedy, 2-year term)
  • Education West Employees (Karyn Noble, 2 -year term)
  • Island EMS, Atlantic Baptist Nursing & Group Homes (Donna Gormley, 2-year term)
  • UPEI 1870 & UPEI Security Police (Tracy Carmichael, 2-year term)
  • Trustee (John Ochsner , 3-year term)

Leonard Gallant was re-elected for a 2-year term as provincial president of the PEI Division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“The past year was not easy, but we continued doing our best for our members despite the challenges,” said Leonard Gallant. I thank all the outgoing leaders, like Brother Jason Woodbury and so many others. Your dedication does not go unnoticed. To all delegates, thank you for giving me the opportunity to continue the work we began two years ago,” he added.

CUPE PEI’s Reaction to the Island’s 2021-2022 Budget

Charlottetown, March 12, 2021 – Today, PEI Finance Minister Darlene Compton announced a reasonable provincial operations budget, which integrates and will implement many CUPE recommendations. The bulk of the budget focuses on healthcare improvements and many community-support measures.

“More than ever, it is time to focus on people and their well-being. It’s reassuring to see the PEI Government decided to not just maintain services and assistance residents rely on, but to invest in them,” said Gallant. “This is crucial for the coming recovery. I consider this a little victory,” said Leonard Gallant, President of CUPE PEI.

CUPE welcomes investments in childcare spaces and calls on the government to ensure that these spaces remain affordable and publicly run facilities. Healthcare investments, notably on access to care for rural residents, seniors’ care, mental health and addiction care will not go unnoticed. “A $4 million investment for 80 new front-line positions in our schools, including teachers, autism consultants, educational assistants, and bus drivers are well taken,” said Gallant.

Our union had advocated and lobbied government to develop a comprehensive public transit system in the province. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure will now have the funds ($250,000) to have experts study and publish a public transit plan by summer 2021. “I call on the government to use the funds to increase the capacity of the public service to develop this plan, and not to privatize the consulting services needed on this important initiative,” said Gallant.  “I am glad to see they listened to workers and will implement pilot routes in the coming September,” he added.

Government has also recognized it has to deal with the growing housing crisis. “While the rent supplement program is not the best way to deal with the issue and lacks ambition, I am glad to see government recognizes the need to do more on this file,” said Gallant.

“I was pleasantly surprised to see increased funding to Legal Aid and the Human Rights Commission to improve access to justice,” added Gallant. CUPE PEI also notes the positive increase made to the Black cultural society, Pride PEI, PEERS Alliance and to the Interministerial Women Secretariat.  “This recognizes how the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women and marginalized communities, and that no one should be left behind,” said Gallant.

“One big missing item which I would have loved to see is a more progressive taxation system. With a reasonable increase in revenues from corporate and top income earners, we could have top of the line childcare and health services to really kick-start our recovery,” concluded Gallant.

Interesting Initiatives Promised in PEI Throne Speech

Charlottetown – The PEI Throne speech, skillfully delivered by Lt. Governor Antoinette Perry, contained many interesting proposals for Island workers.

“Beyond the well-received gratitude and thanks to front-line workers, including public sector workers of all stripes, we appreciate it’s consensus-building content and tone,” said Leonard Gallant, President of CUPE PEI.

CUPE PEI is also interested in initiatives such as the improvements to the “Care at Home” program, supports preventing gender-based violence, protections for temporary-foreign workers along anti-poverty measures and a stronger Freedom of Information Act.

“Of course, the devil will be in the details, but I can say that it’s great to hear that there is a path to get towards a universal childcare program, have more front line supports for recruitment and retention and help for our seniors,” added Gallant.

However, CUPE PEI is alarmed by the creation of three “Tax-Free development zones” for Green tech companies that want to do work on PEI.  “Creating more tax havens is a bad idea for the long term, it deepens the problem of legalized tax avoidance. This, in turn, accelerates the race to the bottom (in terms of taxation) with other jurisdictions, and denies crucial funding to municipalities, public services and provincial governments,” noted Gallant.

“Everybody needs to do their share, from individuals to businesses, to help in the recovery and to fund schools, hospitals, clean drinking water, etc.,” said Gallant. “Being “Green” should never absolve anyone from upholding basic “corporate citizen” duties.

P.E.I. unions raise concerns about safety in schools in the event of COVID-19 community spread

The Guardian, article by

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — The heads of several union locals representing education staff say cohorting of students is not happening in many Island schools, and they are raising concerns about worker and student safety in the event of community spread on P.E.I.

Five representatives of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) spoke before P.E.I.’s standing committee on education and economic growth on Tuesday. Four of these representatives currently work within the school system in P.E.I. as educational assistants, bus drivers, administrative assistants and custodial staff.

A key theme of the presentations focused on the possibility of community spread of COVID-19 or of outbreaks such as those that are ongoing in Campbellton and Moncton, New Brunswick.

Lori MacKay, a CUPE national servicing representative, began the meeting by saying she was impressed by the immediate response of the province to the pandemic in March.

Lori MacKay of the Canadian Union of Public Employees is shown at a standing committee on education and economic growth in Charlottetown on Tuesday, where she expressed concerns about plans for maintaining safety in schools in the event of community spread of COVID-19 on P.E.I. - Computer screenshot
Lori MacKay of the Canadian Union of Public Employees is shown at a standing committee on education and economic growth in Charlottetown on Tuesday, where she expressed concerns about plans for maintaining safety in schools in the event of community spread of COVID-19 on P.E.I

However, MacKay said she is currently unclear about what will occur within P.E.I.’s school system in the event of community spread. She said cohorting in P.E.I. high schools is not happening and described it as “a figment of anybody’s imagination”.

“I’ve had people say to me ‘I feel like I’m the canary in the coal mine’ or ‘we’re the sacrificial lamb going in’ because there’s no cohorting,” MacKay said. “I think we have to put our minds to how do we address it once it happens.”

MacKay added she has not received any questions from school staff about whether they have a right to refuse work, as the lack of community spread has kept such anxieties low.

But she said this would likely change in the event of community spread of COVID-19 on P.E.I.

“If a worker came to me tomorrow with no community spread, based on the model that they have today, I don’t believe that they have a case. But it’s not going to take much for somebody to say they do,” MacKay said.

MacKay suggested a worker who refused to work due to fears of safety involving community spread of COVID-19 would have some right to do so under health and safety laws.

CUPE was involved in summer consultations by education planners about the reopening plan for schools on P.E.I. Provincial staff had spoken about contingencies in case of an outbreak of COVID-19 but has few details included in the province’s return to school guideline.

In August, the Department of Education announced plans to hire close to 160 additional staff positions in advance of the reopening of schools. About 62 of these positions would be for custodial staff, close to 11 would be educational assistants and 31 would be for administrative assistants.

But in response to a question from Liberal MLA Heath MacDonald, representatives from CUPE said these new staff have provided limited relief for existing school staff.

Karen Tsistinas, president of CUPE Local 1770, which represents administrative assistants, said her local had urged the province to top-up part-time staff to full-time hours.

Instead the province provided the additional hours for staff at a “level 9” classification, meaning the work would be performed at a lower pay rate and the work requires a lower skill level.

Karen Tsistinas, who works as an administrative assistant with the public schools branch, said new admin staff have been hired at a lower wage rate than existing staff. - Computer screenshot
Karen Tsistinas, who works as an administrative assistant with the public schools branch, said new admin staff have been hired at a lower wage rate than existing staff.

“We’ve kind of had several conversations with a lot of members that aren’t happy that, if their shift was over at 1:30 and they decided to take these extra hours, they’d only be paid at a level 9,” Tsistinas said.

Tsistinas said she was not sure what qualifications were required from the new hires.

Carolyn Vandaele, president of CUPE local 3260, which represents educational assistants, said the 10.5 full-time equivalent staff hired as EA’s would also be offered a different pay scale as relief workers, as allowed under the current union agreement.

Neither union president said the differing pay scales were in contravention of the union agreement provisions for temporary staff.



CUPE PEI Reaction to the Island’s 2020-2021 Budget

On June 17 2020, PEI Finance Minister Darlene Compton presented the PEI Government’s provincial operational budget.

The PEI Government has chosen a middle of the road budget, which “supports both employees and employers,” as Minister Compton said. The Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Prince Edward Island Division is pleased to see that this Government has made the right decision, during this pandemic, to steer clear from the disastrous path of austerity.

“I commend the investments in K-12 education, the post-secondary education contingency fund, the active transportation network, support to housing, climate action initiatives, investment in crucial non-profits and the public sector,” noted Leonard Gallant, President of CUPE PEI.

While CUPE PEI notes the positive investments made in health, there is concern over many front-line workers being forgotten: “I am concerned there was not a recognition of the recruitment and retention issues facing front-line workers in healthcare such as licenced practical nurses, orderlies, patient care support, clerical, environmental services and many more,” said Gallant. “Their dedication to beat the pandemic was and continues to be admirable,” said Gallant.

CUPE PEI advocates for investment of public money in worker support, childcare, publicly owned and run infrastructure. “The trend of encouraging for-profit, rather than public care, is perhaps what irritates me the most in this overall fair budget,” concluded Gallant.

“Everybody needs to do their share, from individuals to businesses, to help in the recovery,” said Gallant. “Workers are doing their part for sure. I hope, when budget details get worked out in each Department, workers get the full acknowledgement they deserve,” concluded Gallant.

PEI Workers Need Wage Recognition

Charlottetown – As Prime Minister Trudeau announced a $4 Billion Wage Top-up program targeting essential service workers in every province, CUPE PEI believes the Island government should improve wages of all front-line workers and expand the recognition to include all that have been tirelessly providing care and services since the beginning. 

“We commend the Governments in working towards compensating front-line workers and recognizing that many are low wage earners, but the format used could indeed miss the mark and cause inequity from those receiving the benefit,” said Leonard Gallant, president of CUPE PEI Division.  

The Federal Government has accepted to pay 75% of the expenses of its cost-shared Wage Recognition program. Each province is responsible for the remaining 25%.

“Nothing prevents PEI Premier King to improve wages beyond the scope of this program. We have overstretched and overburdened public sector staff in many sectors which should benefit from wage improvements,” said Gallant.

“From healthcare to long-term care, from community care to all others deemed essential who have been facing the challenges head on from the onset providing services for PEI throughout the first stages of this pandemic, the time is right to promote the premise of a living wage and look at all sectors on PEI,” he added.

Gallant says PEI has been plagued with low wages for too long and taking care of front-line workers is the best way to give our province a good economic boost.

“Coupled with our relatively enviable position in the current context, boosting our local economy will give us an edge. It would make the Island even more attractive to newcomers too,” said Gallant.  “We need to explore the idea of improving the wages of public and private sector workers offering many of them a living wage,” he concluded

CUPE PEI notes that even before the Federal announcement was made, Ontario, BC, Quebec and many other provinces had already begun a wage top up program for front-line workers. 

CUPE PEI represents over 3300 members on the Island in many sectors such as municipalities, healthcare and education. Our mandate is to advocate for equality and fairness for all workers.