More than 400 Head Start workers in Western New York — who voted to organize and affiliate with NYSUT — ratified their first contract in May.
Known officially as the Early Childhood Staff Union, the unit represents a wide range of professions including teachers, nutrition associates and maintenance personnel. The workers are employed by the Community Action Organization and spread across numerous Buffalo-area sites.
The contract ratification comes as the nation's Head Start program celebrates its 50th anniversary.
On May 18, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law The Head Start Act, ensuring low-income children from birth to age 5 receive critical educational, health and social services. Since its inception, the program has served more than 32 million children and their families.
Dedicated to ensuring the children in their charge are school ready, the Buffalo-area members of the Early Childhood Staff Union had long endured difficult work conditions, including low pay, long shifts without breaks (including bathroom), increased workloads without compensation and routine terminations without cause.
In October 2013, by a vote of 141-to-81, workers voted to organize and affiliate with NYSUT.
Early Childhood Staff Union President Jamar Clark said the primary motivation behind the move to unionize came down to "respect."
"We wanted respect from our employer. We wanted our employer to listen to us," Clark said. "Now that we have [organized] and with the ratification, there is going to be a change" for the better in the relationship between the administration and workforce.