Tuesday, August 18, 2009

what's wrong with this picture?

I've been remiss in my blogging and reading lately. It has something to do with summer finally arriving and wanting to be outside as much as I can. And I'm still mulling over Michfest - it was awesome and fantastic, but a lot of stuff came up for me while I was there that I'm still processing. More on that later.

Last Monday, a week ago, I was offered a new job. It happened on the same day that I learned my current job will not offer me more than 20 hours a week in September. I can't live on 20 hours a week, and I certainly can't do a half hour commute into Mennonite country for 20 hours a week. I wasn't worried - I'm not even sure if I mentioned it on the blog. I decided that the worst that could happen would be supply teaching for a while, until I found something permanent.

I've never had any trouble finding a job. I work with young children. I'm well qualified and I have seventeen years experience, which is almost unheard of here. Most people with my experience level are either supervising (been there, done that, hated it) or are working in some other field. Working with preschool age children has its inherent rewards, but financial compensations for the long hours, unpaid planning time and professional development requirements are few and far between.

You'd think that since we care for a most precious resource - children - that we would be adequately compensated for our work, that we would at least be able to achieve some level of financial independence. Some do - those lucky enough to land jobs in municipal centers or other places where child care workers are unionized. But the vast majority of us are working for less than what we need to live on independently - there is a legitimate pull between the needs of parents, who cannot always afford high child care fees, and the needs of child care workers.

My new job pays the same as my old one (I'll say it again - I would not be leaving the job I have now if they had full time for me) - which means that I can live comfortably where I am. That's a relief. And I don't need much. But the real difference between my new job and my old one is that for the first time in my adult life, I get....

benefits.

Prescription drug, eye care, dental, disability, life insurance. I am 44 years old, and that's how long I had to wait to get a job with benefits. I should mention that as a Canadian, I'm fortunate from the get-go. I don't need the health insurance coverage that's needed in the States - we have universal health care. And while I earn enough to keep me in groceries and Chucks and the odd luxury here and there, I would be - I am - sorely compromised when it comes to things like paying for a dentist. Or for new glasses.

Why?

Here's the thing. I am fairly certain that over 99% of the workers in my field are women. Women are supposed to get married. Women don't need benefits because their husbands, the providers, will likely have benefits at their places of work. Early childhood educators make a satisfactory supplementary income, but woe betide the single woman who dares to work in my field and support herself and her children. A lot of ECEs that I know have two jobs, because one is not enough.

It's misogyny. Plain and simple. The provision of benefits is not a priority with many child care workplaces because women make up the workforce. I have a college diploma, a university degree, and seventeen years experience. I am expected to maintain my first aid and CPR, attend a minimum of eight hours of professional development a year outside of work hours, and I am a member of a professional body that ensure that I maintain the standards of good child care practice. And yet many organizations that are well-intentioned towards the children do not provide adequate wages or benefits for their employees. We can't afford it, they tell their employees.

Why not? Both for-profit and non-profit have the same answer - because providing higher wages and benefits would cause child care fees to rise...and parents may not be able to pay. The region I live in subsidizes the wages of child care workers at the rate of $2.50 to $3.00 per hour above what the centers pay - without that I don't know where I'd be, so to the region, I am grateful. What about those workers who don't even have that protection?

Well, they leave. Take jobs doing unskilled labour because chances are better with a larger workforce that benefits will be available. And that their wages and working hours will improve. Tim Horton's employees get benefits. And although I have worked in some amazing centers - with good philosophies, and a commitment to providing a high standard of care - they have all fallen short on the employee end of things. I've been chastised for calling in sick, and for calling in when my daughter is sick, even though the rules that we follow prohibit children who are sick from coming into care. (at previous workplaces, not the one I'm currently in - they are really awesome that way) I can't take time off unless there is someone to replace me - and there is not a steady stream of qualified supply teachers waiting to take casual work in child care.

So quality of care does suffer.

Is it any wonder that I can get a job at one of the best centers in the region by applying, being interviewed, and being offered a job in a single day? Believe it or not, I've gotten three jobs that way in the last ten years. I'm good at what I do. my references are flawless. People are leaving this profession in droves, good practitioners that have an affinity and love for children, simply because they cannot afford to stay.

So why do I stay? Well, I love the work. I may never make a dime with my writing, but writing feeds me creatively. Except for full-time writing, which ain't happening soon, I can't think of a better way to earn a living than to work with children. I get to hang out with little people. I get hugged a lot. I play with playdough and mix paint colours to my heart's content. When it's raining, I bring in my guitar and we play and sing, and dance. I am required to be outside for two hours a day in good weather - in every season. I could be stuck behind a desk, I might earn more money that way, but I would be a miserable and cranky human being at the end of the day.

So I've chosen to be here, for better or worse. But I also want to commit myself to better working conditions for people in my field. I wonder what I can do to change things, how i can work from the inside to advocate for better pay and working conditions for all of us. I know it's not easy from the other side, either. But what a difference having benefits will make in my life. I can take my kid to the dentist! It's such a small thing, isn't it? But it matters.

11 comments:

Tina-cious.com said...

omg this is the first time you've had insurance??

that BOGGLES the mind.

Truly.

What did you do for medical care all this time?

Jude said...

wow...but i guess that shouldn't surprise me. My Wife has been on my i-plan for the past 10 years because her jobs didn't offer insurance.

Dragon said...

First, that is insane a place wouldn't offer benefits all because it is majority women and men are suppose to handle that. Someone is still living in the wrong era.

That is awesome you got a job that fast. Please pass some of that good luck my way. I am still on the hunt. :-)

Earth Muffin said...

Congratulations...and it's about time! Enjoy the new position.

Camlin said...

Tina - extended benefits are what I've been offered. My health care is covered courtesy of the Government of Canada and my tax rate - I wouldn't trade it for a thing.

Jude - I never really thought about how benefits might be a good thing until I was on my own again. And now I wonder why it is that a female-dominated industry should be so far behind. Should we not be advocating for each other?

Dragon - sending you lots of good luck. And remember that full moon thing you posted a while back? I did that.....

EM - thanks! I will...I love the older kids, and that's what I get to do every day!

MakingSpace said...

Such an elegant post. I appreciate my children's preschool teachers so much, and I had no idea so few had benefits. I also wasn't aware of the limitations of Canada's healthcare system, though I know it far surpasses what we have in the States. I wish you the best on the new job, and go to the dentist! Woot!

Margo said...

Camlin, I truly quite happy for you. It's too bad you have to leave a job you already know you love, but IT'S ABOUT TIME YOU HAVE A CAVITIY FILLED!

We are in the same boat except that our children are completely covered for everything (except glasses and braces - but the consultation visits are paid for)

You provide the greatest service to parents and the community with your dedication - and that two hours everyday is kind of a nice perk.

Camlin said...

Margo - I had dental coverage until a year ago through my ex. No cavities until after he was laid off and we lost the coverage...now I have one, or maybe two....

That two hours a day is what keeps me hooked. I love being outside!

Dawg said...

You love your career choice, I get that, and totally understand.

*hugs*

Maria said...

I think you are very lucky to be Canadian. We in the USA often have to stay in jobs we hate just to keep our insurance. When, I got very sick last year, I had to find a better job with better health benefits because my private insurance was not good enough.

And writing about your feelings about your job's down side is a very good start.

Camlin said...

Maria - I count my blessing every day.

I can't imagine dealing with Megan's accident without our health care coverage - there may be issues with universal medicare, but nobody gets left behind.