Although he works for a french catholic school board in Windsor, Anthony Cutrone has been approached by fellow union members at an Ottawa school board to share his experience with them. With his health and safety knowledge and ability to get matters resolved Cutrone is a resource to his members and many others in Ontario’s education system.
Working within the education system for almost a dozen years, Cutrone says government mandated school board amalgamation in 1998 forced him to get involved with health and safety. “We had a new union, new employer and a new set of rules. The practices we were used to weren’t happening. People weren’t getting the training they needed to safely do their job and it put others at risk.”
Starting out as a part-time custodian Cutrone saw how the school board as a whole operated. “We had 44 schools and I worked in all of them at some point. Every school had different ways of operating. I saw it all and from that I realized we needed to establish standards across the board.”
As president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 4299 and also the designated certified member of his board’s multi-site joint health and safety committee, Cutrone was well poised to make inroads. In an amalgamated board sweeping from Windsor-Essex to Owen Sound, Cutrone worked with others in his local to make health and safety a priority.
For example, he reports the joint committee pressed the employer to establish the first school board scent-free policy. Says Cutrone, “It wasn’t one of our members suffering, but rather a teacher in another bargaining unit. However, it could have been anyone. Now everyone is protected through this policy.”
Cutrone says he has learned much by working with others. Five years ago a health and safety coalition consisting of school board workers from Sarnia to Windsor allowed Cutrone to cut his teeth. Formed largely to deal with asbestos in the schools, Cutrone was able to identify improper asbestos management practices within his own school.
Cutrone’s commitment to health and safety also extends to co-op students he reaches in facilitating the Young Worker Awareness Program and in acting as a resource to teachers’ unions in his school board and others.
A Workers Centre-qualified instructor and graduate of the Centre’s Coordinator Training Program, Cutrone works closely with Workers Centre staff and Canadian Auto Workers Local 195 activist, Chris Gignac, to facilitate community-based training programs. So many registered for a Level I WHSC program this spring, says Cutrone, they had to break the class into two.
Says Cutrone, “We provide workers with tools to go back and pressure their employers to resolve health and safety problems. Give people the knowledge and they’ll use it.” As for the community-based training he says, “I’ve received a lot of support from the Workers Centre and my union over the years. I’m simply giving back to the community what I’ve learned.”
Donna Wright, national health and safety representative, has worked closely with Cutrone. “Anthony is our primary health and safety school board resource in the Windsor area. Many people turn to him for help. He’s faced many challenges and takes them all on. He is doggedly committed to creating healthy and safe workplaces. ”