Pocono Mountain ESPA completes successful Living Wage campaign
Every worker deserves a living wage. Thanks to a successful campaign, Pocono Mountain ESPA members will now receive a living wage for their jobs.
The story of the Pocono Mountain Education Support Professionals Association’s Living Wage Campaign recently came to a successful conclusion, with an early bird contract in December. The idea for a living wage campaign took roots during bargaining for the local's last contract in 2006, which took a year and half to settle and required the assistance of a state appointed fact-finder. During that time, Association President Greg Peechatka and PSEA UniServ Bill Lydick brainstormed methods to shine a light on the economic struggles and hardships of the members. “Even before we settled that contract in 2006, Greg and I discussed implementing a living wage campaign before starting our next round of bargaining set for 2009,” explained Bill Lydick. Greg Peechatka added, “We knew that conducting a living wage campaign with a local that has over 500 members would be a challenge, but we also saw it as a great opportunity to alert the community and school board of the economic difficulties our members face daily.”
In the spring of 2007, the association’s leadership formed a Living Wage Committee and took advantage of resources offered by NEA and PSEA to run an effective Living Wage campaign. The committee, along with UniServ Lydick and PSEA Communication, Organizing, Program Specialist Paul Shemansky set out to work on developing short-term and long-term strategies to complete a successful living wage campaign over the span of two years. The membership was energized when NEA staffer Debbie Minnick, former President of the Paraprofessionals in Ithaca, New York came to the Poconos to discuss and highlight strategies used in their successful living wage campaign.
In the summer of 2007, the Association held a general membership meeting in which they overwhelmingly voted to support the campaign and authorized the use of necessary resources to obtain economic fairness among the support staff. Over the next 19 months the Living Wage Committee reached out to the community by participating in numerous public events such as parades, local fairs, and by sponsoring a public forum that centered on the benefits of providing a living wage for all workers in the community “We did everything possible within our means to reach out to the public during this entire process with regards to educating, discussing, and raising awareness of our quest for a livening wage while building a network of support. We also adopted the slogan “All Workers Deserve a Living Wage,” said Peechatka. “We’re thankful that the school board was open and receptive to hearing about our members’ financial struggles and our desire for a living wages,” Peechatka stated.
The campaign ended in December of 2008, resulting in a five-year contract and some substantial financial gains. Different wage levels within the same job classification were eliminated in the classifications such as administrative assistant, maintenance and mechanics. The new contract agreement also provided for significant increases for paraprofessionals and non-teaching assistants.
In the end, the association and the school district worked together, in cooperation, to improve employee compensation, which they both agreed will benefit the education process while helping to maintain and attract qualified employees. “We’re so very proud of members for planning, organizing, and going out into the community to spread the message about the need for living wages. This is a very good contract and our living wage campaign was positive and a major success,” said PMESPA Vice-President, Mary Ann Boylan.
Note: news about Pocono Mountain ESPA's Living Wage campaign will also appear in the April edition of Voice.