1. The Trumansburg Support Staff Association is one of NYSUT’s newest locals. What inspired your team to organize?
We’ve had an unofficial support staff union for many years. But we’ve talked about officially joining a union for a while, even while we were working on our most recent contract.
When the pandemic hit, negotiations got 100 times harder and we realized how vulnerable we were.
At our last meeting, administration just stopped negotiating with us and handed us an agreement to sign. They wanted us to pay the same health insurance rates as teachers and administrators. Since most support staff earn around $13 an hour, it was too expensive. Many of us would have brought home less.
At first they offered us a living wage increase, but as the pandemic progressed, they said they couldn’t even offer us that. We couldn’t take that back to our members.
2. How did you start organizing?
I’m part of an organizing team — elementary school secretary Darla Sielaff; bus driver Ginger Mosher; high school administrative assistant Deanna Crance; middle school administrative assistant Brenda Everhart; and myself, an elementary information aide.
Deanna started investigating union options and she eventually called Tom Drumm, a NYSUT organizer. We also spoke with Ryan Radley, president of the Trumansburg Teachers Association.
He was very supportive, and provided us with helpful information.
3. Who are the members of the Trumansburg SSA?
We’re a unit of around 90 bus drivers, cafeteria workers, transportation workers, information and support aides, clerical staff and grounds, maintenance and operations professionals.
Most of us have more than 10 years with the district, some nearly 20. Many of us moved back to be closer to family, or we stayed here because we love the community.
We come in on weekends. We help teachers after hours. We are an integral part of the fabric of the district.
We deserve to be recognized.
4. What are your goals for your first contract?
I work with amazing people: teaching assistants who fill in for all those moments a teacher can’t be there, bus drivers who build relationships with kids and the parents who trust them with their babies, and a cafeteria staff who went from zero to 60 when the pandemic hit. I want them to be paid what they deserve.
That’s my biggest wish.
I want the people retiring, or considering retirement, to have better health care. We can do better for them; they’ve dedicated their careers to the district.
Job training is also important. We often aren’t a priority.
5. When it comes to this effort, what are you proudest of?
I’m proud of the people who came out to vote and I’m glad that NYSUT was there for us. More than 80 percent of our unit voted and a good portion of us were clearly in support.
It’s nice to have someone guiding us so we can better help our members.
For instance, three days after we affiliated, we had an issue with administrators and Tim O’Brien, the NYSUT Southern Tier Regional Office staff director, came and helped us out.
I think about all the people who don’t have a union, and all the workers trying to organize.
They’re using their voice to protect themselves.
It’s something that every American worker should have access to.