July 24, 2009

Community ties help SRP contract win

Source: NYSUT News Wire

A commitment to reach out to the community recently helped two units of school-related professionals in the same district win quality contracts, proving yet again that small SRP locals with big plans can reach their goals..

The SRP chapters in Wheatland-Chili won five-year contracts, retroactive to 2007-08. They gained pay raises of at least 18.5 percent across-the-board, with additional raises for some titles. Negotiators bumped up the starting pay for all positions, and increased the winter wear and hand tools allowances. Workers with 15 years of district service now qualify for a $2,000 retirement incentive. The union protected health benefits and resisted an effort to "tier" benefits for newer members.

If layoffs are necessary, they will be done by seniority, and the district will give individuals notice as far in advance as possible. Union representatives will have release time to address issues.

Telling members' stories

Wheatland-Chili is a rural district for the village of Scottsville and the town of Wheatland in Monroe County. Years of poverty-level pay for school support workers were making it harder for them and their families to put food on the table. Tired of their conditions, local leaders knew they wanted to try a new approach in this round of bargaining.

In early March, dozens of union members led a march through the streets of Scottsville to a school board meeting. What made the weeknight march powerful was the support of the community, standing alongside the union members.

The weekend before, SRPs passed out fliers about their situation and their march in town "until we ran out," said Gail Horne, president of the clerical, nurses and aides chapter. "We asked people to join us at our march."

"I went door-to-door and talked to the parents from my bus route," said Nancy Scheerens, president of the bus drivers, secretaries, food service and maintenance workers chapter. "When I told them that we were almost two years without a contract, they were appalled."

Their community outreach produced important results. NYSUT Vice President Kathleen Donahue and more than 150 union members, parents and students filled the streets on a march to a board meeting and rallied outside the school. Marchers then crowded the gym and speaker after speaker supported the workers.

"Knowing we had the support of the community, the confidence of the parents and a line of people speaking for us gave us a warm feeling," Scheerens said. "Having the community ask why our contract wasn't settled really helped."

Horne agreed," The rally was big turning point for us. The board realized people were with us. After that rally, the board really took notice."

Three months later, a good settlement was finally reached. "We stayed strong as a unit, we had the trust of the members and our LRS Nan Rodgers really kept us moving in the right direction," Scheerens said.

Donahue described the local as persistent and united." Their ability to draw community support shows the respect that parents and families have for SRPs whose work is so essential to children. This community's willingness to help when asked can be replicated around the state by other SRP locals," she said.

More SRP contract gains

Other SRP locals have also made important advances. The Hoosic Valley Teaching Assistants in Rensselaer County, led by Donn Maynard with chief negotiator Trish Pallozzi, recently won a two year agreement, through June, 2010. A new $500 stipend was created for a four-year degree and the two-year degree stipend increased to $250. Each member will receive a 4.5 percent salary increase both years. The district and local established a labor-management committee to discuss health insurance cost containment.

In Fulton County, the Wheelerville SRPs, led by Jan Rogueau, won an agreement with a 4.2 average increase for three years, and no changes to their health insurance coverage. In Washington County, the Washington Academy Service Employees Association, led by Regina Eastman, also gained 4.2 percent on their base salaries. A health insurance reimbursement account, worth up to $2,000, has been established for employees not currently receiving benefits. Retirees will see improvements in their health insurance options.