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Five substitute teachers suing Yukon government over unpaid wages

In separate claims, the teachers say the Department of Education owes them nearly $17k in unpaid wages
Five substitute teachers have filed lawsuits against the Yukon government’s Department of Education, alleging that it owesthem, collectively, nearly $17,000 in unpaid wages. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

Five substitute teachers have filed lawsuits against the Yukon government’s Department of Education, alleging that it owes them, collectively, nearly $17,000 in unpaid wages.

In separate claims filed to the Yukon’s small claims court June 15 and 18, Monique Lange, Sandra Marguerite Gabb, Ellen Lopushinsky, Geoffrey Bryan Abbott and Lauren Lester say they’re each owed between $1,921.92 to $5,710.78 for hours worked this year and last.

Their claims add up to a total of $16,799.51.

All five claims allege that the Yukon government’s current method of paying substitute teachers, also known as teachers on call (TOCs), does not accurately reflect the amount of work they actually do.

As of June 19, the Yukon government has not yet filed replies to any of the claims. Department of Education spokesperson Jason Mackey declined to comment for this story, saying that the matters were now before the court.

According to the Yukon government’s website, substitute teachers are paid a daily rate — not by the hour — if they work a full day. The rates range from $135.93 to $218.43 per day based on the substitute teacher’s level of education and qualifications. A “full day” of work is listed as five hours on pay advice forms.

In their claims, the substitute teachers say that they regularly work more than five hours a day and provide spreadsheets, logs, class schedules and bell schedules they say prove the amount of time they’re actually on the job.

“There is a fundamental flaw in this pay scheme,” Lester, Lopushinsky and Abbott wrote in their claims.

“As can be seen in the supporting documents, there is not one school day that is five hours (or less). They are all more than five hours according to their own (YG) published bell schedules.”

All the claims except for Lange’s also note that the Yukon government pays substitute teachers an hourly rate when they work for more than half a day and less than a full day, but that no pay structure exists to compensate substitute teachers who work more than five hours.

Substitute teachers are also not compensated for out-of-classroom duties like supervision or preparation, the claims say, despite the fact that a Yukon government-supplied handbook called Stepping In advises them to “get to school at least half an hour early so that you have time to prepare.”

“I wish to be paid for time worked,” Gabb wrote in her claim, adding that, of the 507.7 hours she says she worked, she was only paid for 377 of them. “There is no provision for payment for the extra time worked before and after school collecting keys; reading the regular classroom teacher’s day plan and notes; preparing the materials, calendars and the classroom for students; and leaving notes for the classroom teacher and the end of the day.”

The four claims point out that other on-call Yukon government employees are required to submit hourly timesheets and are paid in 15-minute increments.

“Equity demands similar treatment,” Gabb wrote. “In conclusion, albeit the daily rate of pay for substitute teachers is abysmal, it is my contention that in fairness I be paid for hours worked.”

Currently, the territorial Education Labour Relations Act does not allow substitute teachers to be represented by the Yukon Teachers’ Association (YTA). In separate interviews June 20, both Lopushinsky and Abbott said that because they don’t have a union, they felt they had no way to raise concerns about pay and work conditions other than to go to court.

“We’re kind of left with no choice…. (Substitute teachers need) to take some form of action for this to change and be the way it should be,” said Lopushinsky, who has taught in the Yukon since 1979 and served as a substitute teacher since last fall. “There was no other course to take.”

Lopushinsky said her love of teaching and interacting with students is what has kept her in the profession, but that the current pay rates for substitute teachers make her feel “undervalued.”

“It’s like making a statement, I think,” she said of the lawsuits. “We would like to be spoken to about this and I mean, this is something I certainly would never have done, ever, in my life. It’s not how I do things, but if you have someone who won’t recognize you’re trying to talk about something, I guess we’re going for a statement for teachers on call.”

Abbott, who’s been advocating for the Yukon government to allow substitute teachers to join the YTA since this spring, said he’s been helping to organize the effort and that more substitute teachers may be filing lawsuits shortly.

“The bottom line is, what happened is that there are a number of teachers on call who have come to me.… And they’ve said, ‘Boy, it doesn’t seem right that… our payment is based on a five-hour day,’” he told the News.

“We don’t have an association or a union to go to … so what we thought we’d do is, I put it out there that we could try going to small claims court and seeing if that would work.”

He added that should substitute teachers continue to not be allowed into the YTA, some may begin to try and seek representation from other associations or bodies.

YTA vice-president Carol Sherlock said in an interview June 19 that substitute teachers regularly copy the union on emails and that the YTA is “definitely” aware of complaints over the daily pay rate.

The YTA is not involved in the lawsuits, but Sherlock said it supports substitute teachers in their efforts to be compensated.

“We depend on substitute teachers to do our jobs and we know that different schools have different bell schedules and substitute teachers are paid for a five-hour day when they may be working much longer than that, and obviously that’s why the lawsuits are being put forward,” she said.

“We absolutely understand that (substitute teachers) need to be paid for the hours that they work.”

Contact Jackie Hong at