‘I should not be here’: Education workers picket outside Oosterhoff's Beamsville office

“I should not be here,” said Brenda Baughman, a designated early childhood educator (ECE) at the District School Board of Niagara (DSBN).

“I should be in my classroom with my students. Having to tell them yesterday, at the end of the day, that we weren’t going to be together was super hard for me,” she said.

Instead, Baughman was one of dozens of education workers from CUPE4156 and 1317, who formed a picket line, along with their supporters, outside MPP Sam Oosterhoff’s office in Beamsville on Nov. 4.

CUPE called a strike despite the province provoking the notwithstanding clause and making the action "illegal," according to the government. Union members voted for the strike on Oct. 3, with 96.5 per cent voting in favour. They're striking against education cuts and calling for more frontline staff to help schools succeed and a pay increase for education workers.

Education workers are angry at the provincial government and believe that they’re unfairly labelled as greedy for demanding more wages.

“I have a post-secondary education,” said Baughman, “I work super hard. And to have a government tell me that I'm greedy is not accurate.”

Baughman, who had volunteered as a picket captain, said an increase in the cost of living has pushed the financial capabilities of many education workers to the limit, which is why they’re asking for an increase in wages.

“How am I supposed to feed my children on what I make?” she asked. “It's astronomical now, post-pandemic, trying to get by as a middle-class family. It's really hard.”

Education workers said they were willing to go on strike for as long as necessary, but want to be in the classroom where they belong.

“But at the end of the day,” said Baughman, “the bottom line is, how long are we going to be out here? As long as it takes. Do I want to be here? Absolutely not. Where should we be? In our classroom supporting our kids. That's what I do. This (being on the picket line) is not what I do. This is heartbreaking. This is not okay.”

Chris Pickles, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Grimsby Lincoln News