ESPs Strategize on Gaining Living Wages at Annual Conference
November 4, 2019
November 4, 2019
Like lots of Virginia localities, Stafford County was short on school bus drivers. To fix the problem, the county offered increased pay to new candidates. But that created another problem—new drivers were getting a higher hourly rate than experienced ones.
“That was totally not acceptable,” SEA member George Schlegel told attendees during a presentation at VEA’s Education Support Professionals Conference over the weekend. “We need to be treated with respect for the work we do and be paid accordingly.”
Stafford bus drivers and the SEA began showing up at school board meetings to draw attention to the problem and doggedly pursued a solution until a new, more just pay scale was created (and unanimously passed).
“It was a big victory,” says SEA member and bus driver Emily Coleman.
Those kinds of victories were the focus of 2019’s ESP Conference, which also featured Fairfax Education Association member Taylor Gaddy, an instructional assistant who laid out FEA’s “$20 by 20” Living Wage Campaign.
Pete Meyers, a longtime labor leader from Ithaca, New York, gave the keynote address for the conference, saying, “There’s a lot of injustice in our world around wages, and we have to be thinking of ways not to accept that. Every single one of you is underpaid—you serve a very important public need in the work you do.”
Meyers, who leads the Tompkins County (NY) Workers Center, also led a workshop in the nuts and bolts of a living wage campaign and how to develop a healthy salary schedule, and conference participants received training in resiliency and trauma, and heard from Manassas Education Association President Leroy Williams, VEA’s current ESP of the Year, about how MEA won improved health care coverage for ESP employees.
The weekend was well-spent, says Arlington Education Association member Tedd Williams, who notes, “Every conference makes a difference. I’m taking home more knowledge that our group can use.”
Frederick County’s Brenda Wallace, a paraprofessional who works with children with emotional disturbances, felt the conference’s focus on a living wage was on target. “I love what I do,” she says, “and I don’t want to have to switch positions. But I don’t feel our salary scale is fair. Our pay should match the level of professionalism we provide to our kids.”