November/December 2021 Issue
October 25, 2021

Bargaining strength in action

Author: Liza Frenette
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New union-negotiated advances in salary, benefits and working conditions are improving the lives of educators and support staff — as well as bringing in desperately needed new hires.

The value of union membership doesn’t end with the paycheck.

Union leaders, guided by NYSUT’s core values — good jobs; affordable, high-quality health care; strong public schools; a strong and vibrant democracy; and a society free of discrimination, bigotry and hatred — fight tirelessly for contracts that support members and their families.

Here are a few examples of powerful union-won gains across the state: The Fairport Transportation Association settled a contract significantly improving the salaries of bus drivers and attendants.

The local union, led by Ron Rutherford, was stymied from attracting new hires by starting salaries for drivers of $14.50 an hour, and $12.50 an hour for attendants. Pay will now be $18 an hour for drivers, and $15 an hour for attendants.

Additionally, the district agreed to use federal stimulus money so that drivers will receive an extra $2 an hour for three years; attendants will be paid an extra 25 cents hourly for three years.

“They were one of the lowest-paid bus driver groups in Monroe County,” said Sheila Sullivan Buck, NYSUT labor relations specialist. “They were bleeding members.”

Two new bus drivers have signed up since the pay was raised, she said.

New drivers were previously paid only $100 to attend a mandatory 30-hour training. Now, they will be earning the new hourly rate for the training itself.

The Malone Federation of Teachers, a 250-member local led by Nathaniel Hathaway, negotiated language protecting members from a workload increase due to COVID-19.

Malone is located about a half hour from the Canadian border.

Union advocacy provided SRPs in Lyons with a well-earned boost.

Local leaders negotiated a contract reopening to deal with staff shortages and low pay, said Janice Bailey, president of the Lyons Support Staff Association, a Central New York union of 58 clerical staff, custodians/cleaners, TA/aides, monitors, cafeteria workers and mechanics.

Previous salary negotiations were for a three-year contract with 2.9 percent plus 70 cent increases each year, but now the support staff will see a salary increase of 6 percent plus $2 this year, with the next three years at 2.9 percent plus 90 cents.

The Rome Teachers Association negotiated an MOA with the district recovering excess premiums paid in 2020 — more than $350 per individual premium payer. Excellus BC/BS had notified the Madison Oneida Herkimer Health Insurance Consortium they were reimbursing districts — not individuals — for excess premiums paid during the pandemic when doctor visits, elective procedures and outpatient treatments were severely curtailed.

The local union’s vigilant health insurance committee alerted officers, led by President Rob Wood, who then negotiated with the district for the funds. As a result, teachers received an 8.75 percent reduction in their premiums for the year.

During the last contract negotiations for the Schenectady FT, President Juliet Benaquisto bargained for more time during new teacher orientation to talk about why unions matter and what they do. In the past, the union would get less than half an hour to speak to new teachers out of three days of orientation.

This year, the SFT had two hours to provide breakfast and union information to 100 new teachers.

Benaquisto told them how salary schedules, health insurance benefits, advocacy for reasonable class sizes and planning time all come from union bargaining.

“There are great benefits that come with their contract, and it’s only good as long as we continue to stay a strong union,” she said.

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