Thinking about the future. . .

Today I did a bunch of work related to my position as president of my Local.  The support staff of Sturgeon School Division, where I work, belong to CUPE — Canadian Union of Public Employees.

We all work in a fairly high-stress environment dealing with kids all day, some of whom do not come from the best of circumstances, and, as a result are burdened with all kinds of ‘special’ little problems.

But, that’s not what this is about.  We work the school calendar — which, if you are a school-based employee means you work 200 days a year — the basic instructional calendar, and most of us work less than eight hours a day.  It’s not a traditional full-time job, by any means.  For those who depend on the job as their sole source of income it can be a tough making ends meet.  Even as a second income, it’s not on par with other careers as far as earning power goes.

Many of us working in the education system as classroom or therapy assistants chose the job because we love kids, we believe in the power of education, we want to help make a difference, we wanted to be on the same schedule as our school-aged children and having the summers off to be with our families was worth the sacrifice in income.

One of the things that helps make up for that lack of earnings potential is the benefit of being able to contribute to LAPP – the Local Authorities Pension Plan.  LAPP, as it is commonly known, is a defined benefit pension plan, that sees employees and employers contributing more or less the same amount into a pension fund. The fund provides for a steady, half-way decent monthly benefit once an employee retires, if they’ve worked long enough — say 35 years — and contributed that entire time.

Now, our provincial government, the Conservatives led by Allison Redford, wants to change the rules regarding our pension.  They want to do away with things like early retirement — which, if you opt for you also opt for a reduced monthly benefit, and they want to get rid of yearly cost of living increases — because apparently once you retire you can live on the same fixed amount of money for the rest of your life — even though utilities, food and gas will continue to rise, and you’ll have to pay exorbitant health care costs because you no longer have the benefit of belonging to a group plan.

The government is saying that the pension fund in its current form is not sustainable.  They say it’s costing tax-payers, employers and government too much, and that employees must be prepared to shoulder a larger portion of the cost.  They want to take away our future security. They want to take away our right to live with dignity as we grow older and more dependent on the government services we helped pay for with the wages we earned while in the workforce.

The message we kept being given is that it is our responsibility to plan for and save for retirement.

Our answer should be:  We did!  We paid into a pension plan with the goal of having  a secure monthly income after we retired.  And for all those people out there who would say that we don’t pay nearly enough into the plan and that it is gold-plated?  Well, I can tell you that I pay approximately 10% of my gross monthly wage into the plan every month, and when I retire, after working for approximately 15 years in this job, I will be lucky to see a pension of about $200 a month.

Thank God my husband worked at his job for more than 35 years.  He’s a member of LAPP as well.  His pension will be less than half of what he presently earns.

And the government and pension critics have the nerve to call that gold-plated.  Easy for them to say when the pensions they earn are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and they only have to work a handful of years to qualify for them.

Unions across the province and the country have banded together to push back against the changes the government wants to make to public sector pensions.  On March 2nd a rally has been planned to show the Redford government that their proposed changes are not acceptable, and that working people in this province deserve better than what they’re getting .  The rally is going to take place at Churchill Square in downtown Edmonton at 2 p.m.

Myself, and presidents from neighbouring locals are working together to try to get as many of our members as we can out to this rally.  But we need others to stand up and add their voices to this fight.  It doesn’t matter if you belong to our union, or any union — if you believe that our government should keep its grubby mitts off pensions and that they should protect the rights of working people rather than trample all over them, then please come out and join us.

If we don’t stand up to this attack on our pensions, if we lose this fight, then we have lost not only our own future security we have lost our children’s futures,  too.

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Sunday afternoon

It’s Stupid-bowl Sunday,  oops, I mean Super-bowl Sunday.  Tim’s all geared up with beer and chips.  He’s a happy little fella.

Me?  I’m going to bake.  Granola bars and bread.  Get some stuff done for work tomorrow. Kick back, relax, read some more of Black House (which is a MAJOR disappointment, I must say), maybe contemplate beginning a crochet project.  We’ll see.

Spent the weekend at a CUPE bargaining conference.  The best I’ve ever attended.  KUDOs to our new AB Div President and the team she assembled to make this weekend such a success.

I’m not a political animal or much of a networker (probably why I’m not very successful in the things I want to be successful at — but that’s off topic) but I think I did pretty good this weekend.  I got up, for the first time ever, and spoke at the open mike.  This is just a little daunting, and in my past experience at these things, the mike is usually commandeered by a select few with a special agenda to sell.  This time, however, that wasn’t flying.  Made for a nice change.

I also spoke up and out when I had the chance.  So many of the people who attend these CUPE events are such radicals.  They see things in only one colour — black or white — neither of which is a colour, but, there you go.  I tend to see things in all shades and consider myself more of a conservative (not CONSERVATIVE) for those of you who will  jump at the chance to flog me for that choice of word.  I don’t take an extremist position or point of view, I try to see things in terms of what will work for the best for everyone.

Apparently, this makes me a weak unionist.  So be it.  I’d rather be a weak unionist who manages to get what’s best for the membership I represent, than an extremist who constantly puts their jobs in jeopardy.

Well!  I got that off my chest.

And all because I had the guts to say what I felt this weekend.  And lets face it — the signs all over the walls said to listen, respect, and contribute.  I was only doing what was expected.

On another topic entirely:  watched the movie The Help last night.  It’s a wonderful film.  If you get the chance you should see it.  I wanted to read the book first, but just knew I wouldn’t have time before the Oscars at the end of the month and I do want to see all the contenders before the awards ceremony.

It’s a wonderful story of women, both black and white, in the 50’s, and the racial and societal constraints each had to deal with.  It’s not over-wrought, there’s (thankfully) not a lot of violence, though it is alluded to.  It is a very intelligent movie with lots of humour and insight.  I don’t think I’ll ever look at a chocolate pie in quite the same way again.

Watching it I couldn’t help but admire the lovely dresses these women wore.  I often wish I had lived during that time simply so I could wear such gorgeous dresses.  Of course, I wouldn’t have wanted to live in such repressive conditions, but, oh, those dresses!

In my job wearing a dress to work would be simply stupid.  And because I’ve become so accustomed to wearing slacks, jeans and cords, when I do put a dress on I feel awkward.  Isn’t that silly?  I somehow feel like I’m “showing off” or not being my ‘real’ self.  How is that we come to place such restrictions on ourselves?  I’m thinking that maybe, just maybe, I’ll go shopping one of these days and pick myself up a couple of nice everyday dresses that I can wear around the house.  Dresses suited for doing housework, but that look feminine and pretty.

What do you think?  Am I being unrealistic?  Longing for something I never had?  An experience that I don’t even understand?  Or simply getting addled?  Help me out here with your comments!

They’ll be greatly appreciated.

Just some pics I downloaded from Google Images to illustrate the kind of dresses I’m talking about.

Wednesday in Red Deer

. . . well, I’ve been in Red Deer since Sunday around 4 pm.  I like Red Deer.  It’s a pretty city.  Nestled between Calgary and Edmonton, it’s the halfway point, the center, if you will, of the province.

Why am I here, and not at work?  Because I’m attending CUPE week-long school.  CUPE week-long school is an opportunity to learn more about how Unions function and how to help the people who belong to them.  I never was a big union supporter, but now that I’m in a job that is governed by one I decided to get involved.  I’ve been involved for the past six years, taking on progressively more responsibility, until now I have attained the exalted title of President.

. . . sounds impressive, but all it really means is that I get to do way more work than anyone else.  There are benefits to it, as well, such as it looks great on a resume, and, besides,  education is never a waste.  And in CUPE there are always tons of opportunities for education.  Another nice thing about becoming involved with the Union is that it has really opened up my eyes to what workers’ rights are, and how they are so flagrantly abused much of the time.  Especially for people who are too afraid to speak up.

And let me tell you, most people fall into that category.  They just don’t want to risk losing what they consider to be a great (or at least, good) job, so they’ll put up with abuse and harassment and being made to feel that they should be bloody grateful to have a job, period.  Now, me on the other hand. . .

. . . I love a fight.  Don’t go looking for them necessarily, but if one comes along, well I won’t back away without giving it a shot.  I’m lucky in that regard, I guess, and also in that I have a spouse who makes a good living, so any job I have is a bonus.

But. . .

. . . now that I’ve said that. . .

why should I trivialize what I do in that way?  My job is every bit as important in our lives as his is.  I make a good wage, and if I was working full-time like he does, my income would be much greater, probably not much less than a 2/3’s  of what he makes.

That’s the interesting thing about work, employment, pay  — there’s this tendency to attach a value to ourselves in accordance to what we do and how much we get paid for doing it.  Considering that we’re all children of Capitalist’s and Calvinist’s for the most part, I guess it makes sense.  Or, maybe not.  I’m not really sure, just thinking as I type.

When I think of all the people I know, though, I would have to say that status and making more money is a driving force in their lives.  It is in mine, I know.  I have a perfectly wonderful job as an Education Assistant.  I work with Special Needs students in a junior high school.  I love my job, I think what I do has real meaning and real value, not just for myself and the students, but for society as well.  I am a contributing member of my community, of my province, of my country.  I am helping to ensure that kids with disabilities get the same opportunities as other kids without those roadblocks to learning do.  And that is something to be very proud of.  And yet. . .

. . . I sometimes berate myself that I’m not doing something that has a better title than Education Assistant.  Like: Teacher, or, Speech Language Pathologist, or Behaviour Therapist, or Therapy Aide, or. . .  the list could go on and on.  Then, there’s the fact that instead of even doing the job I do, I could be writing full-time.  I treat that like a fantasy, however.  Something that if only I had more money, and all my debts were paid off, and I had the money to travel, and Tim was retired, and, and, and  —  then I could be a full-time writer.

The truth is I’m not a full-time writer simply because I don’t believe in my ability to pull it off.  And, because I’m actually quite happy (most days) with my job.  I like that I can go to work and help kids learn — it’s  a neat feeling when a kid grasps a concept that they’ve been struggling forever with, or when you see the lightbulb go on in their eyes, because what you’re teaching them finally makes sense.

Anyway, I have completely digressed from my original theme which was being here in Red Deer.  I have enjoyed every day, so far, although, today was rather dull.  We’re learning about duty to accommodate in the work place.  A lot of policy language, but it’s essential to the workplace and I guess if I can take even one thing back to the job and my members then it will be worth sitting in that hard-backed chair today for 8 hours.

Well, I think that’s it for now, I’ve got to walk back to residence and get rid of my laptop and then turn around and walk back to the college for supper, then a meeting afterwards.  Sigh.  I miss home.  I miss my bed.  I miss my husband.  I miss my kid and his kids.  Friday.  I’ll be back home on Friday.