Sarah Rier is an office administrative secretary at a small secondary alternative school in Toronto.
While most high schools have a minimum of four secretaries to deal with various administrative tasks, Rier’s job is four rolled into one. She calls herself a “jack of all trades,” with responsibilities that include answering incoming phone calls, checking attendance when students are late, purchasing supplies, dealing with incoming and outgoing Ontario student records and archives, the ministry report, handing out transit tickets to students and maintaining the photocopier, amongst many other things.
She’s been working for the school board for 27 years, starting as a swim instructor before those roles were phased out. Despite her long reign with the Toronto School Board, Rier stresses that the average salary for her position is $39,000, after taxes. It's important to her that school assistants to get a pay raise because the work they do is at the foundation of every school. Sadly, not much has changed in her time working in schools.
“Every four years we negotiate our contract and we always get about two percent for a four year span - so a .5 increase every years - and that’s how it’s been going since the Harris days,” she tells Yahoo Canada News, referred to former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, who served from 1995 until 2002.
She explains that since she works in an alternative school, her pay scale is less than someone doing the same role in a regular high school but more than someone at an elementary school.
Every weekday she works from 7:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. without a lunch break, because there is no one to cover her.
Premier Doug Ford is 'destroying our province,' education worker says
When asked about how she feels about the back-to-work legislation that’s set to be enacted to prevent school assistants from striking, Rier doesn’t hold back.
Doug Ford has been the worst premier I’ve ever seen in my life. He’s destroying our province. The schools are crumbling. I have an $11,000 budget to last me until June.Sarah Rier, office administrative secretary at secondary school in Ontario
Rier is also critical of the upper management of the Toronto School Board.
“If they came in and had to teach a class and work in an office, they’d see what it’s really all about and where we need funding,” she says. “Because they’re in their ivory tower and are so far removed, they have no concept of what’s going on at the school’s base level.”
In addition to salary pay discrepancies, Rier says that during COVID-19 lockdown, teachers and administrators got COVID pay, but none of the support staff did.
“From the Toronto Public School Board administration down, support staff are almost treated like second class citizens,” she says. “It’s disappointing because it takes the teaching staff and the support staff to run the school.”
By taking away the right to strike, Rier says the provincial government is going against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. An illegal strike walkout is planned for this Friday, unless a tentative agreement is reached before then.
“I understand that it takes money to run things, but if you want to improve your education system, you have to put money into it,” Rier says.