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It’s the year of province wide negotiating in many sectors, and education is one. In my particular field, one stated goal of the government in the last round of negotiations, four years ago, was to bring parity to all education workers in their respective professions. As an educational/teaching assistant, I had certain working conditions not enjoyed by others in my field elsewhere in the province. Hours of work varied from 5.5 to 7 hours a day, for instance.

The way that the government worked 4 years ago was to convene Provincial Discussion Tables with the goal being to go to school Boards with contracts that had basically been agreed upon by unions and government representatives and that funding to the Boards would be based on. The Discussion Table allowed union representatives from a variety of fields to talk to the government and come to some sort of understanding and practice the art of give and take.

Fast forward to this summer and the gloves were off before the Discussion Table even set up shop. The government made it known that teachers (and by association all education workers) were in for a big shock and that the government planned to play hard ball. “Leaked” stories spoke about wage freezes and cut backs and claw backs on sick days.

And here’s where I’d like a sitdown with Dalton McGuinty. I think it is safe to say that there are many education workers, be it teachers, administrators, educational assistants, who understand the need for short-term wage freezes. The possibility of losing sick days is troublesome for many and the idea that the government would take back sick days earned and banked for emergencies is where I take issue.

Let me explain: I work in a job where I have been hit, kicked, punched, spit on, pushed into walls, tripped (accidentally and on purpose). I do personal care, which means feeding and diapering children up to age 19. This is my job and I go to work with a willingness to take on whatever comes my way. At the same time, while being in this position, I have been kicked so hard in my knee I needed to go to the emergency department. It was recommended I stay off my feet for several days. Therefore, I need my sick days. I rarely use them – I even visited the emergency department after school hours – but I need those days to be there in case of an emergency brought on by my job.

I have been earning and saving sick days all the years I’ve worked. I have taken personal days (which are drawn from my sick days) when my father died, as well as when my father-in-law passed away. I take time off when I am too sick to work (perhaps from a virus passed on when I was dealing with someone else’s bodily fluids?). I have had to take time for appointments that could not be scheduled outside school hours. I have not abused the system. I have enough sick time so that if I get hurt and have to be off work for an extended time, I am covered until my long-term disability kicks in. Many of my peers have done the same and therefore did not have to ask for unemployment or welfare benefits while waiting.

The Ontario government would like to take away those earned, unused days. I don’t have it in my contract that I get a “buy-out” of these days when I retire down the road. These are days to be used in case of an emergency, likely due to an injury that could reasonably be assumed might occur at work and would be forfeited once I leave the Board. Fair enough.

So, Dalton, you’ve got some ‘splaining to do. I do not understand where the support for me to work with the most vulnerable students is when you are leaving me out in the wilderness if I get hurt doing that work.

I am not one of those “whining” educators: I simply am a person who cannot understand the thinking. I am blessed with a situation where there are two incomes in our house which will help sustain me if I don’t get paid, but there are thousands of others who are not that fortunate. Yet, it doesn’t really matter if I have the means to pay for a leave: I have been prudent and saved up my sick days because it’s the right thing to do.

I need to know that the Ontario government will do the right thing as well.

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