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Member & Activist Spotlight

Ellen Olsen: We Can't Work in Silos

Ellen Olsen, a sign language interpreter in Minnesota, shares the power of bargaining with the whole education ecosystem in mind.
Ellen Olsen is a sign language interpreter in Minnesota
Published: June 16, 2020

Maybe about 12 years ago our local started moving toward an organizing model, bargaining for the common good, that sets me on fire. That’s when I knew I wanted to get involved. If we can bargain for more social workers, nurses, and ESP staff, that makes me really excited to do this work. We can really make changes for students and families. ⠀

In my local, we have the licensed unit and two ESP units, and we used to negotiate each unit on a different schedule. Then we decided it was more powerful if we negotiated on the same schedule. That increased our leverage for a couple of cycles. But last cycle when our ESP units were getting put off by the district negotiators, our Executive Board voted to merge our three teams into one. So all the teachers, all the educational assistants, and all the school and communities service professionals, were on the same team.

We became a team of 35 people, and when we showed up at the next bargaining meeting, the district didn’t know what to do. Our team made sure we had proposals that were mutually supportive of one another. So if we’re advocating for more librarians here, we’re also advocating for more educational assistants to help those librarians. We were asking for more interpreters for our special education meetings and communications with parents, and more paraeducator support to meet student’s individualized needs—and the teachers were the ones advocating for us.

It felt different to bargain with the teachers, but it also made sense because we do our work together. We can’t work in silos.

Not only is this work thrilling for the team, it also works and resonates with our members, parents, families, and community members. At the end of the day, it’s the children getting more services and resources. Who wouldn’t want that?

Librarian leans over seated students at the library who are reading a book

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