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Field-Tested Salary Campaign Tactics

by Dave Winans, August 2007

In late July of 2007, representatives from 19 NEA state affiliates currently planning or engaged in salary campaigns -- including researchers, legislative/political staffers, UniServ reps, organizers, and elected leaders -- participated in a first-ever NEA Salary Roundtable. They traveled separately to Washington, DC to share tactics and obstacles faced in salary campaigns and left as a national network of activists for professional, competitive pay.

In discussions of "what works" these days in pay campaigns, roundtable participants listed these field-tested tactics:

1. Frame the salary debate/discussion by, for instance, presenting competitive, professional pay in the context of recruitment and retention of quality staff.

2. Use internal Association communications to create a "buzz" around salary goals, play up victories, keep members in touch during long campaigns, and educate folks about pay in other professions, new data, and salary schedule basics.

3. Develop good public relations through, among other things, a simple salary message (relayed through a "constant drumbeat"), news about valuable work done by education employees, town hall meetings, visibility items such as bumper stickers, polling and focus groups, pledge cards, and salary message training for leaders and staff.

4. Use NEA members' personal stories, especially those from "invisible" education support professionals, to humanize educators and educate taxpayers and decision makers about the vital work they do, too often for poverty pay.

5. Use "self-sufficiency" standards from public or non-profit agencies to bolster the case for livable pay and to "embarrass" employers who pay less than a living wage.

6. Prepare well for pay talks, even in a non-collective-bargaining environment, by promoting collective member activity, coordinated local approaches to different employers, bargainer training/certification, and local affiliate organizing committees.

7. Compact salary schedules, to increase the number of years educators work at the top step, to maximize their career earnings, and to increase their pension payments.

8. Appeal to NEA Student Program members and new educators, soon to become the majority in many local affiliates, by campaigning for higher starting pay and enlisting newbies as Association reps and bargaining (or grassroots lobbying) team members.

9. Cook up creative new ways to push for higher pay. The New Jersey Education Association marched into superintendents' gatherings to distribute schedules from districts with higher starting pay -- exploiting inter-district rivalry -- while the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE) rattled its pork-producing state with the message, "North Carolina: First in Hogs, 42nd in Teacher Pay."

10. Make it personal and passionate. NCAE researcher Marge Foreman, who's helping coordinate a statewide drive to boost teacher and ESP salaries, urged salary campaigners to "make salary a civil rights, a women's, and a minority issue. Personalize the message that [educators] are becoming an endangered species and connect the dots!"