United in Jefferson County
Independent ESP local joins team NEA.
By John Rosales
For almost 40 years, the education support professionals of Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado stood alone. The members of the Classified School Employees Association (CSEA) were content as an independent organization unaffiliated with any state or national union. They didn’t need the National Education Association, viewed by some CSEA members as a “teachers’ union.”
It’s not that they had anything against their teacher colleagues in the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA), an affiliate of the Colorado Education Association (CEA). Quite the opposite. CSEA’s 1,400 members at 155 schools happily talked wages, benefits, and other workplace issues with JCEA members. After all, both groups bargained contracts alongside one another with the same school officials.
Both groups worked well together too. Many lived in the same neighborhoods and attended the same places of worship. But the support professionals wouldn’t join NEA. And it wasn’t because they would have to pay extra dues.
“When we talked about affiliation, I had to be convinced that an organization whose focus is basically around teachers could possibly be the right thing for ESPs,” says Nancy McCanless, a school secretary who served as CSEA treasurer. “We (CSEA officials) met with representatives from CEA-NEA for months before the (CSEA) executive board decided to approach members with the affiliation question.”
What happened next surprised everyone. Earlier this year, an astonishing 93 percent of CSEA members who returned their ballots voted in favor of affiliating with the Colorado Education Association. Since then, CEA-NEA’s newest affiliate was renamed the Jefferson County School Employees Association (JCSEA).
After the vote was taken in January, JCSEA membership has grown by more than 100 members.
“We see this as a testament that the appropriate decision had been made,” says Joe Selvidio, an electrician and JCSEA president who served as CSEA president for the last three years.
“The Big Board” listing the names of ESPs belonging to an independent local who voted overwhelmingly to join CEA-NEA. The new local is named the Jefferson County Schools Employees Association.
The new JCSEA office in Golden has an executive director, full-time release president, and office assistant. A UniServ director has also been assigned to help JCSEA coordinate new recruitment, organizing, leadership, and other staple NEA programs.
“When I saw what they (CEA-NEA) could do for employees, I was convinced that I should be a dues-paying member and take an active role,” says McCanless, who is on a full-time work release assignment to the service desk.
Tom Ordish was president of CSEA’s maintenance association, one of seven interior groups (each with its own president) organized under the CSEA umbrella, a structure which still exists under JCSEA.
“I voted to join (CEA) for the added strength to our (formerly independent) local and the many added member benefits like insurance, consumer discounts, and liability protection,” Ordish says. “CEA-NEA has provided much needed training on how to build our local.”
“Jeffco” school district is the largest in the state with about 11 percent of K-12 students attending. Ordish says “with the help of CEA, we can and will build one of the largest locals in Colorado.”