K-12 custodian represents frontline workers as Newsmaker of the Year

PENTICTON—CUPE 523 member John Johnson, a custodian at Penticton High School (PenHi), was selected by the Penticton Herald to represent their Newsmaker of the Year. Almost 70 per cent of readers selected frontline workers as the 2020 newsmaker.

Previously Johnson worked evenings in a middle school. “Moving to days connected me more to the staff, the building and the students in it,” said Johnson.

As a daytime custodian in a large inner-city school with 65 classrooms and 1100 students, his regular work starts before school and includes opening the building, checking the premises and grounds, an hour of cleaning and sanitizing, and then getting kids into the building safely. Once classes begin, as well as sanitizing vacant areas, Johnson does a myriad of things to keep the building safe during the day such as participating in the buildings’ Occupational Health and Safety Committee.

“I would be truly handcuffed if I didn’t have a good relationship with my administrators,” says Johnson. He also helps facilitate fire drills for PenHi and the neighbouring middle school, monitors school systems and requests appropriate repairs, as well as coordinating routes for the sanitizing crew to where they are most needed.

Johnson said that although custodial work has shifted toward the sanitizing side, the same men and women have been working to keep schools safe year after year. “It’s taken COVID to bring this work into the spotlight as an essential job, to see how important our work is.”

CUPE 523 Unit 67 Chair Tammy Carter believes all K-12 support staff deserve recognition for a job well done. “I am so proud of all our K-12 custodians and support staff in Unit 67, Okanagan Skaha,” says Carter. “It’s great to finally see K-12 support staff recognized.”

The Penticton Herald newsmaker of the year article notes that custodians are “finally getting their due after decades as arguably the most underappreciated workers in the school system”.  Johnson is also representing “frontline workers such as cashiers, clerks, cab drivers, servers and others that keep society moving while health professionals, teachers and first responders make headlines elsewhere on the front lines.”

Bulletin #45

On behalf of your K-12 Presidents Council executive, I want to wish everyone a healthy and happy New Year! With vaccines now being rolled out in B.C., hopefully 2021 will be a brighter and safer year for all.

We hope everyone had a re-energizing winter break.

We all need to diligently follow the guidance of the PHO: keep physical distancing
wherever possible, wear masks if not possible; wash hands frequently; stay home if feeling at all unwell. As Dr. Bonnie Henry says, no one approach will stop COVID-19, we need to use all of our “layers of protection”.

Your K-12 Presidents Council committees continue to meet with the provincial government regarding COVID-19 and how it relates to K-12.

In safety and solidarity,

Warren Williams
K-12 Presidents Council President

View PDF.

Local surveys coming soon

As part of the Provincial Support Staff Framework Agreement, CUPE and BCPSEA on behalf of the K-12 Presidents Council, have developed two surveys to be distributed within the next week:

Joint Health and Safety survey

Responses to the Joint Health and Safety survey will inform further work of the Health and Safety Taskforce. This survey will be completed by a support staff member (the local support staff union may identify a support staff individual) as well as a representative from management (who serves on the school/site JHSC).

Support Staff Education Committee survey

The Support Staff Education Committee (SSEC) survey responses will help define priorities for, and interest in, support staff training and upgrading. This survey will help inform the work of the SSEC over the next two years.

District remote learning survey
(Transition Program)

On January 8, districts will be given access to a survey about the current state of district transition programs created for families not ready to send students back for full-time
in-class instruction.

We also need to know how many K-12 Presidents Council members are working remotely.  We are asking local presidents to contact their districts to find out how many members are working remotely with students.

Please email this information to your coordinators and copy K-12 Presidents Council President Warren Williams.

Federal grant money being released to districts

According to a B.C. Government media release on December 21, K-12 COVID-19 funding is being used to hire additional staff and increase cleaning in schools throughout B.C.

“We know this funding is making a tremendous difference for students and staff, keeping our schools open and supporting our safety plans during the pandemic,” said Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside.

New positions created include:

  • 252 educational assistants and 228,491 more staff hours
  • 403 additional custodial staff and 575,885 more staff hours
  • 244 additional staff including
    bus drivers and 202,744 more staff hours

We will continue to advocate that these additional staff and hours be maintained after COVID-19 has ended.

Bulletin #44 – Stand Up For Mental Health

Jan.19th Presentation: 5:30–7:00 pm

Stand Up For Mental Health

This pandemic is challenging for CUPE members working as frontline workers across B.C. We have had to learn new ways of doing things under challenging conditions. Many have faced pandemic fatigue and fear in a situation that changes frequently — working despite the lack of a mask mandate, and fearing for the health and safety of our families and loved ones with health issues that put them at risk.

Members may experience depression themselves or worry about a colleague or friend and want to know how to reach out to them to let them know someone cares.

This webinar features a one-hour performance by counsellor and stand-up comedian David Granirer and his Stand Up for Mental Health comics. Q&A to follow.

Resources available to members include:

  • Employee Family Assistance Programs (EFAP) cover various items and are available through most school districts. Check with your district on what your coverage includes.
  • Visit the Public Education Benefits Trust (PEBT) website and search for “mental health” to find resources for members.
  • Check with your local and district to find out what benefits you have available for mental health support.
  • Contact your shop steward/local executive.
  • The B.C. branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA BC) website.
  • WorkSafeBC has two new resources that address the mental health effects of COVID-19 in the workplace.
  • The B.C. government also provides many mental health resources.

Information to join the January 19, 2021 Zoom presentation will be emailed to Local Presidents, Unit Chairs and Staff Reps.

This presentation is open to all CUPE K-12 members. Contact your local for the meeting link.

A big shout-out to CUPE BC for their support and the sponsorship of this show.

David Granirer

David Granirer is a counsellor, stand-up comic, author, and founder of Stand Up For Mental Health (SMH), a program teaching stand-up comedy to people with mental health issues.

David, who has depression himself, is featured in the VOICE award-winning documentary
Cracking Up. He also received a Life Unlimited Award from Depression Bipolar Support Alliance, an Award of Excellence from the National Council of Behavioral Health, a Champion of Mental Health Award, and a Meritorious Service Medal from the Governor General of Canada.

He was recognized as one of the 150 Canadian Difference Makers in mental health. A sought-after keynote speaker, he also works with mental health organizations in Canada, the U.S., and Australia to train and perform with SMH groups in dozens of cities.

We’d like to wish every member and their family a safe and happy holiday. We look forward to working with you in 2021!

View PDF

Seasons Greetings

As we prepare for winter break, your K-12 Presidents Council executive wants to thank you for going the extra mile in this unprecedented, difficult year. All of you — members, local executive and presidents — have tirelessly continued to support students and staff throughout this pandemic.

One of the enjoyable things about the holiday season is thanking the people who are important in our lives. We want to thank K-12 support staff in every classification. Many of you put your own fears aside to keep classrooms open.

Here are just a few highlights. Custodians finally received much-deserved recognition for the critical role they play in keeping schools safe and sanitized. IT has ensured that technology works and supports student cohorts. Education assistants have helped students in classrooms, reminding them to continue practicing physical distancing and keep safe. Clerical has kept everyone in school informed on the latest guidelines. Trades and maintenance workers have ensured that proper ventilation and hand washing stations are in place and working. And bus drivers are still getting students to school and home again safely despite the pandemic.

We are now hopeful because there is light at the end of the tunnel. Vaccination for the coronavirus has begun in B.C. under the direction of PHO Dr. Bonnie Henry. We must remain vigilant and safe so that we can all be together in the better days to come.

Again, thank you for everything you have done in 2020. The K-12 Presidents Council wishes all of you a safe, happy and healthy holiday and new year.

In solidarity and safety,

Warren Williams

Nicole Edmondson

Jane Massy

Paul Simpson

View PDF

K-12 Follow Up to December 14th Webinar


We want to extend our thanks to all who were able to join the December 14th Webinar. We hope the information was helpful to you.

As you are likely aware, the first COVID-19 vaccines have reached BC.  While we still have a long way to go, we are now entering the beginning of the end of this pandemic.

All information contained in this email is from public sources, and may be distributed to members or posted on your websites.

The targets the government has set include the K-12 sector in the second priority group, although some may have access to it earlier than that.  You can see the government’s projected schedule here.

We heard a number of questions put forward to Dr. Gustafson around the actual vaccine and what we know about it. Below is some helpful information.


The National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) released recommendations on key populations for early vaccination. This includes guidance on who will get COVID-19 vaccines first. The recommendations include:

  • Residents and staff of congregate living settings that provide care for seniors such as long-term care homes
  • Adults 70 years of age and older, beginning with adults 80 years of age and older, then decreasing the age limit by 5-year increments to age 70 years as supply becomes available
  • Health care workers (including all those who work in health care settings and personal support workers whose work involves direct contact with patients)
  • Adults in Indigenous communities where infection can have disproportionate consequences

For those with concerns regarding the vaccine, we can only address it by referring you to the BC government’s website (link is above).  We have understood that, at this time, there is not any indication that this will be made mandatory.

Meanwhile, even for those who have received the vaccination, the PHO orders will remain in effect.  We also know that until our sector has access to the vaccination, there will continue to be risk, and advise you to remain vigilant in keeping yourselves and others safe by maintaining physical distancing where possible and wearing a mask. Please report to your local and health and safety representatives in cases where safety plans are not being followed and enforced.


Please see the attached resources from our OH&S Rep, Brother Tom McKenna.  They are approved for distribution to members and can be found on www.bcschools.cupe.ca .

Your dedication to students and each other has been well noted; we cannot applaud you enough for this.  We need to keep up our safety measures, and ask our employers to update their safety plans as needed.  We are now able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but only once the majority of the population have been vaccinated can we expect to see a significant reduction in the safety protocols and measures imposed by the Provincial Health Officer.

Fact sheet and guide to filing WorkSafeBC claims during COVID and compiled resource list.

Chris Losito and Jeanne Marr

K-12 Co-Coordinators