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Cuts to PSSD janitorial staff during pandemic poor decision, says union

There are 30 janitorial and maintenance staff in Moose Jaw and, while that number will remain the same, the number of part-time workers will increase to 11 from four
Janitorial staff. File photo

The union representing janitorial staff in Prairie South School Division is concerned that the division plans to cut staff and reduce hours during a time when the coronavirus is still present.

The division (PSSD) recently announced plans to start the 2020-21 school year with a reduction in custodial services at six Moose Jaw schools and two other school board buildings.

The affected schools include A.E. Peacock, Riverview Collegiate, Central Collegiate, Prince Arthur Elementary School, Westmount Elementary School and William Grayson School. The affected school board buildings include the board office on Ninth Avenue Northwest and the maintenance building.

The reduction equals 2.53 full-time equivalent (FTE) staff and is equal to 20.3 fewer daily hours of custodial services, according to CUPE Saskatchewan. There are 30 janitorial and maintenance staff in Moose Jaw. That number will remain the same, but the number of part-time workers will increase to 11 from four.  

The cuts go into effect on Aug. 15.

 “I think schools are very important to be kept clean. I think during the pandemic when cleanliness is absolutely of the utmost, if anything, I would think they (PSSD) would be looking at increasing hours to ensure that the children and the workers are safe, not reducing (hours),” Judy Henley, president of CUPE Saskatchewan, told the Express.  

Henley questioned the reason to reduce hours when the division plans to reopen schools in September. Furthermore, employees won’t be able to perform the same cleaning as before, let alone extra cleaning required during a pandemic. She wanted to see more guidelines and stringent procedures in this area.

During the most recent PSSD board of education meeting, trustee Jan Radwanski (subdivision 6, Moose Jaw) raised the issue of cuts to janitorial staff. In response, board chairman Robert Bachmann noted the budget had not yet been passed and cautioned Radwanski against characterizing the budget as hurting cleaning services.

“It impacts the number of hours that certain people will be at certain locations. It should not impact the quality of cleaning services at all,” Bachmann added.

“That’s a fair summary,” said education director Tony Baldwin, adding this issue was included in a board motion in March about minimum staffing levels. “That news is a couple (of) months old at this point.”

In a later news release, Baldwin explained the division adjusted these staffing numbers as part of a regular process. He also expressed his disappointment in CUPE’s approach and criticized the union’s decision to play on the public’s fear of COVID-19.

Baldwin assured the public about PSSD’s approach to managing the pandemic, saying the division has kept its staff safe and supported continued learning since schools closed. The division expects the Ministry of Education to provide more direction soon.

“(The ministry’s) direct connection to the Chief Medical Health Officer ensures that we are doing the right things for students and staff,” he added.

Instead of reducing hours and staff, PSSD should have had a temporary increase in janitorial employees until the pandemic is over, said Henley.

“People know children are children (and) students are students. They don’t wash their hands … like maybe an adult would do … ,” she continued. There was “no rhyme or reason” why PSSD made these cuts, especially since the division plans to increase the budget in this area for the 2020-21 school year.

Specifically, the division plans to increase the Plant and Maintenance budget line by four per cent, or $393,000. That money won’t cover the shortfall in hours, though, Henley added. It might not even lead to a wage increase for the remaining custodial staff, some of whom make less than $50,000 a year.

CUPE represents more than 7,000 education support workers in Saskatchewan, including 350 members in PSSD. 

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