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Waterloo childcare centre stages 'day of advocacy' for sector workers

Staff protest Ford government's 'failure' to prioritize early childhood educators, childcare staff in vaccination efforts
COVID-19 school 3
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As the Ford government rolled out its recently announced Emergency Child Care for Critical Frontline Workers on Monday, staff at Emmanuel at Brighton Child Care in Waterloo staged a day of advocacy in protest of a perceived lack of support for childcare workers across the province. The scheduled walk off was accompanied by a virtual livestream through the centre’s Facebook page, with scheduled guest speakers including local dignitaries, centre management and parents of children that attend the childcare space.

Speaking on behalf of the workers at Emmanuel at Brighton was staff spokesperson Emilie Borghese, who said the decision to withdraw service and go without pay was not one that was taken lightly. Borghese called the lack of prioritization in the vaccine roll out for childhood educators and childcare staff “dangerous and negligent”, as staff work in close quarters with unmasked children on a regular basis. Advocating on behalf of all early childhood educators, Borghese said staff were calling on the Ford government to recognize the importance of the childcare sector by prioritizing ECEs and childcare workers in the planned vaccination schedule.

“We are scared. But we are also so very tired that because we are a primarily female, non-unionized workforce, we’re ignored by our government.”

In a release sent to 570 NEWS, staff emphasized that the protest being held today is not a reflection of the direct working conditions at Emmanuel at Brighton Child Care Centre, adding that the school has gone “above and beyond” for staff and students throughout the pandemic, going so far as to double contractual sick days.

Borghese also brought attention to the “long standing inequities” suffered by those working in the sector, as she said that childhood educators have felt largely unheard by both the provincial and federal government for decades – “long before the pandemic swept the world like wildfire.” Borghese spoke to the extensive workload of ECEs and childcare workers in observation, documentation and curriculum development, which pointing to the efforts to meet and exceed cleaning protocols established by public health. Speaking to the need for a comprehensive, Universal Childcare Plan, Borghese said childcare centres are facing tight budgets, grappling with enhanced duties with no further compensation.

“It has taken a global pandemic to highlight just how essential childcare is to the economy, and what a key element it is for economic recovery and growth.” said Borghese. “While we recognize that we are so fortunate to be employed by this stellar organization, we recognize that Premier Doug Ford’s unwillingness to provide paid sick days to the people of Ontario during a global pandemic has devastating effects on the vast majority of childcare workers and further exacerbates the existing wage gap.”

Also joining the day of advocacy was Dana Bernhardt, the centre’s executive director. Speaking to the support of the initiative from Emmanuel at Brighton’s board of directors, Bernhardt read a statement from the organization, praising the centre’s workers for organizing their advocacy protest on their own time. Bernhardt added that this initiative is not an argument that educators deserve to be vaccinated ahead of other workers – but rather, a call to bring attention to their risk of being exposed to COVID-19, and potentially spreading the virus to their own families, coworkers and the children they care for.

“I don’t know any other essential worker who would be asked to care for 15 to 24 unmasked customers in one room, who can’t social distance – without being prioritized for a vaccine. No one else would do it.” said Bernhardt.

“Could you imagine 130 unmasked individuals walking into any other workplace right now – and their employees welcoming them with open arms? That’s what my staff do every day. All across Ontario, childcare staff are doing this – without question, without hesitation. The risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is much higher for childcare staff than almost anyone else.”

While both Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife and Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo were scheduled to join the virtual event, technical issues left both representative sending along statements of support for the local care centre. In her written statement, Lindo wrote that the work being done by the staff at Emmanuel at Brighton is “crucial” in helping children in our community become the young adults that they one day will be, sharing her own experience of having her own son attend the centre prior to being elected. Lindo added that the pandemic has further highlighted just how essential the work of ECEs is, as she wrote that, without the service of our childcare workers, other frontline workers would not be able to continue their work.

“Your work is essential – and that’s why we are standing with you as you fight for vaccinations that will keep you safe to do this important work.” said Lindo. “Vaccinations that will keep our children safe. Vaccinations that will keep our families safe. Because your work is essential.”

The staff at Emmanuel at Brighton Child Care have encouraged other child care centres to consider holding a similar day of advocacy to send a continuous message to all levels of government, while also asking local residents to call local MPPs and elected officials to press the importance of the issues. Staff have also organized an open letter to the province calling for ECEs and child care workers to receive the vaccine immediately, which can be found here.

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