Public school support staff perform work that keeps their schools running, work that is essential to the educational mission of Wisconsin’s public school system. Unfortunately, this work is too often undervalued by school district administrations, who frequently ignore pressing issues that make it hard to recruit and retain the best school staff. So, after five years of pay freezes, reduced take-home pay, and declining benefits, members of AFT local 4018, the Eau Claire Schools Classified Staff Federation, decided they’d had enough, and made plans to take their issues directly to the school board.
Over the next few weeks, members talked to their coworkers during the day and made calls at night to recruit staff to attend the January 18 board meeting to send a unified message to the board and the administration: that the time to talk about staff compensation and benefits was now. And on the night of the board meeting, 40 staff lined the halls holding signs naming the many outstanding issues that the district needed to address, including step increases, longevity pay, lost vacation days, and particularly a reclassification for special education assistants. As board members entered the building before their meeting, they saw, face to face, the staff that were being harmed by the district’s inaction on these issues.
During the board meeting, Lynn Christianson, president of local 4018, and Cyndy Heinz, a local member, spoke about the need to show support staff that they are valued by taking their compensation concerns seriously. As her fellow members held up signs throughout the room, Christianson said that fair compensation would “help all of us who have stuck it out during these hard times feel that our time has not been wasted—that our years of service are important, and that you, the board, value their experience and commitment.”
The members’ action had immediate results. During the meeting, one board member asked the district to cost out union members’ requests, and afterwards, the administration met with Christianson to schedule meetings to discuss these issues more fully. And on February 1, the board voted to approve one of the members’ most pressing requests, a reclassification and pay increase for special education assistants. “I couldn’t be prouder of my fellow members,” said Christianson after the reclassification vote. “This win shows what we can accomplish when we stick together.”