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Strong Contract Follows Joint Bargaining, Merger Bliss in Northshore

Coordinated bargaining equals increased benefits for Washington students, schools, and members.

What happens when two union locals share a history of displaying high levels of unity and collaboration on behalf of students, schools, and members? They merge, of course, and use their combined numbers to bring gains for the entire school community.

NSEA Bargaining Team That’s exactly what happened after the Northshore Education Association (NSEA) and Northshore Education Support Professionals Association (NESPA) in Washington united under the NSEA banner, jointly bargaining a contract they recently signed with the district.

“The unity and support between members of both locals is such an amazing and wonderful thing,” says Karyn Sullivan, former NESPA co-president and current NSEA board member. “This feeling of unification spills into our jobs each day as we work with students.”

The gains for the local’s 520 ESPs include a 19.3 percent pay raise over four years plus a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) of 3 percent and 1.8 percent for 2015 and 2016 respectively. A COLA is included in each of the next two years.

“The contract has given my family a little breathing room,” says paraeducator Robbi Reed, NSEA vice president for ESPs. “I am now contributing to the deferred compensation program to boost my retirement.”

Bargaining Gains Boost Union Membership

The contract is retroactive to last year, with retroactive pay for full time ESPs of between $1,600 and $5,000. The contract also moves many part time members working four hours per day or less to full time status, six and a half hours per day with full benefits.

“We expect the new contract will bring full-time ESP members from about 54 percent to about 70 percent,” says NSEA President Tim Brittell. “These hour increases also benefit certificated members and students who will have ESPs available for the duration of the school day.”

In 2015, about 90 percent of ESPs were situated on the low end of the pay scale earning an average of $18 an hour. By Sept 2018, they will be earning an average of $23 an hour, plus whatever the COLAs are for 2017-2018 and 2018-2019. The local’s 1,300 certificated members will receive a pay increase of 10 percent plus COLAs over three years.

“For many members, these gains are life-changing,” Brittell says. “We talked about a merger for over a year, and thanks to staff and members working together, we made it happen.”

“We Would Not tolerate a ‘Divide and Conquer’ Mentality”

The former NESPA local started bargaining their ESP contract in April 2015. After the contract expired that September, members began discussing the possibility of strike. At about the same time, NSEA certificated members began bargaining their contract while also discussing with ESP leaders the possibility of a merger and joint bargaining.

By April 2016, officials with the Northshore School District started bargaining with NSEA but not NESPA.

“We could not have confidence in an administration that wanted to divide our educators,” says Brittell. “We’re a team and would not tolerate a ‘divide and conquer’ mentality from the district.”

In June, while NESPA and NSEA members voted and prepared to strike at the beginning of the school year, the district named a new superintendent to lead contract negotiations. Dr. Michelle Reid was known to have a contemporary, enlightened approach to labor relations.

“She is honest, smart and filled with integrity,” says Brittell.

After a meeting between Dr. Reid and Brittell, the administration agreed to bargain jointly. A signed contract soon followed in late August. A key aspect of NSEA’s bargaining strategy was to compel district officials to bargain jointly at one table with unified teams, common expiration dates, and the right to make single proposals that encompass both contracts.

“We did it by preparing our members for a strike and by making joint bargaining a major issue,” says Brittell, who started his education career as a paraeducator. “All certificated members were willing to lay it on the line for their ESP brothers and sisters and they came through in a big way.”

In addition, district officials agreed to continue joint bargaining in the future.

As a member of the bargaining team, Sullivan says she was impressed and inspired by the support that teachers expressed for ESPs during bargaining sessions.

“I think it was something we (ESPs) knew was always there, but to hear them stand up for us during negotiations meant so much,” says Sullivan, a school assistant. “We went through some hard times together. But it wasn't just at the bargaining table where we united, it is all of us working together in many different ways for students and each other.”

Addressing Gender Bias For Fair Compensation

With regard to ESP wage and benefit issues, NSEA officials compared their work data with the state’s market pay scale for male and female workers doing similar work. Most NSEA ESPs are women who work as paraeducators, school assistants, nurses, deans, technology specialists, and other non-certificated employees.

“We asked district trustees to phase out the ‘low pay-few hours’ compensation model that is grounded in gender bias,” Brittell says. “Most school districts perpetuate low pay for classified women because they found them to be a group that stands up to fight for their rights the least. We asked district leaders to stop taking advantage of this and use the state’s market data that factors in male workers.”

NSEA officials also asked district officials to create a professional development system, stop the hiring of part time workers to avoid paying benefits, and to combine jobs whenever possible so more full time work is available.

“We educated our certificated members about ESP low pay and the institutional gender bias it was based on,” says Kraig Peck, the Washington Education Association (WEA) staff specialist assigned to Northshore. “In general, we built unity between the two bargaining units at the district and school levels.”

Working with Brittell and NSEA staff member Lydia King, Peck says coordinators established union support teams at work sites to speak one-on-one with other members. They also organized hundreds of members to attend several school board meetings.

“Having a wide network in place is essential for effective bargaining and communication,” says Peck. “Fortunately, we were able to build a broad leadership organization of more than 200 members leading face to face conversations in every school. It was that spirit of unionism that helped us organize and do well at the bargaining table.”

 


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