March 01, 2016

School-Related Professionals 'Fight for $15' at the Capitol

Author: Tess Thapalia
Source: NYSUT Communications
fight for 15
Caption: Penny Vanderlinde (left), Donna Arlo and Joyce Dziekonsi share personal stories and press for wage fairness with Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D-Rochester).

More than two dozen School-Related Professionals and educators from Special Act, 853 and 4201 schools and Head Start programs from across the state gathered at the Capitol this morning to show support for the "Fight for $15" campaign for wage fairness.

Kitted out in shirts proclaiming “Fight for $15 and a Union for Everyone,” groups of SRPs met with lawmakers to share their stories and give names and faces to the movement for a new minimum wage.

Joyce Dziekonski and Penny Vanderlinde were among those who met with lawmakers throughout the day to discuss their goals for the movement.

Dziekonski, of the North Rose-Wolcott Service Employees Association, has been a teacher aide for 18 years. She spoke movingly about joining the workforce after her son was diagnosed with a brain tumor, saying, “I did it to make ends meet back then, and I’m still working to make ends meet now.” In fact, she works a second job, and still struggles.

Vanderlinde, of the Wayne-Finger Lakes Association of School Support Personnel, told lawmakers she also relies on her second job as a real estate agent, but that she only makes money when she sells a house - no small feat in this economy. Vanderlinde also read Donna Arno’s notes, as Arno had lost her voice. Arno, also of the Wayne-Finger Lakes Association of School Support Personnel, was concerned about the fact that many of her fellow SRPs would like to “be working towards a degree to better themselves, but don’t have time to go to school because of having to work those extra jobs.”

When the SRPs met with Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D-Rochester), he was openly supportive of the Fight for $15 and eager to hear the stories the women were there to tell. He himself told a story about overhearing a coworker disparage the movement to raise the minimum wage because “minimum wage jobs are almost all entry-level.”

Bronson replied, “You tell the paraprofessionals in the room that they’re working in an entry-level job. You tell them that they don’t deserve a living wage. I disagree with all of those things. I think paraprofessionals, all of you, deserve a living wage.”

A later meeting with Assemblyman Bob Oaks (R-Macedon) also went well. Oaks listened solemnly to the group, which included Dziekonski, Vanderlinde, and Arno as well as Christine Meyer and Karen Arthmann of the Rush-Henrietta Employees Association, as they told their stories. Oaks was supportive, and thanked the group for giving him faces and stories to accompany the complicated issue.

The SRPs left for the day feeling as though their efforts, which included taking a day off from work to bring the fight to the Capitol, had made a difference.