Johnsonburg ESP Beats Subcontracting Threat
With strong support from their community, the Johnsonburg Education Support Professionals Association has emerged victorious after a two year battle against the school board’s threat to subcontract the cafeteria workers.
The school board and the JESPA ratified a contract in early January, which includes language that will preserve the jobs of 11 cafeteria workers during the next two years.
“You can imagine how shocked we were when we first sat down to negotiate and were faced with the school district’s proposal to outsource the cafeteria workers. When I looked at their proposal and the cafeteria jobs were eliminated from the matrix, I just couldn't believe it. They even hired a special lawyer to handle the outsourcing. I have been employed in the cafeteria for the last 20 years,” said JESPA leader Beth Thorwart, who was a member of the bargaining team and was serving as President when negotiations started in January 2008.
During the subcontracting battle, the JESPA waged an aggressive community campaign that included petitions signed by more than 1100 community members, postcards, news articles and editorials and ads. Some local business owners encouraged customers to sign the petitions while shopping in their stores.
“We also invited other local unions to support us at the board meetings and we were pleased when the main industry of Johnsonburg, the Domtar Paper Mill's union the United Steelworkers' Local 10-701 spoke on our behalf,” Thorwart said. “We received support from the student body as they spoke at the board meetings and even made "Save the Ladies” t-shirts. We also encouraged all Union members to come to the Board meetings.”
During contract negotiations last spring, the school board threatened to subcontract the cafeteria workers, if the union wanted to keep their health benefits intact. Union members went on the offensive by telling the community about the school board’s threats and unfair proposals.
“I think the Board didn't realize just how far we would go to save our jobs. I think the signatures on the petitions made a huge impact to them as they had to admit that we, the voters, who elected them into office did not want the Johnsonburg Cafeteria to be run by an outside company. Our campaign was one of "Keep it Local" and that is how it should be,” Thorwalt said.
The school board did drop the proposal in June. However, in October, during contract negotiations with the JESPA, the school board put the proposal back on the table.
In November, union and community members attended the school board meeting to show their support for the cafeteria workers. JESPA President Kenneth Mendat reminded the school board at that meeting that the community had gone on record opposing the subcontracting threat, and that the board should listen to their constituents.
JESPA leaders say this is consideration of forming a community group to interview candidates to run for the Johnsonburg School Board next November.