SEIU School Employees Spring Ahead in Bargaining

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It’s been a busy, and productive, spring for members in our public school chapters. And perhaps no one was busier than our SEIU members at the North Scott Community Schools.

Our North Scott members started a Facebook page as a way to stay informed about their contract talks. But soon, word about the page spread, and hundreds — in some cases, thousands — of people from the community started checking the page and finding out about the incredible work that public school employees do.

They learned about the teacher’s aide who made a special connection with an elementary school student that no one else could reach — and how that student’s parents called the aide years later, after their child graduated from high school, to thank her. The community learned about the custodians and secretaries and cafeteria workers who constantly go above and beyond their job descriptions to help students and their families.

During their contract campaign, our North Scott members worked hard offline as well. They spoke at school board meetings, they generated letters to the editor of the local paper, and they held a Sticker Day where a strong majority of workers wore stickers explaining how a good contract was good for students and the whole community. (The picture at the top of this story is one of many from their Sticker Day.)

In the end, all their hard work paid off. The North Scott members in both our bargaining units — the classified staff and bus drivers — ended up winning pay packages with increases well over 2 percent. (See the full story on their Facebook page here: bit.ly/2Kapvyn)

But they were far from the only SEIU Local 199 public school employees who made progress this spring. In fact, employees from 7 school districts, in 11 bargaining units, negotiated new contracts or wage reopeners. Below is a quick rundown of what workers won in each district:

CEDAR RAPIDS COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT

We have two bargaining units in Cedar Rapids, and both the custodians and secretaries did well.

This year was just a wage reopener for both units. That’s because the Cedar Rapids district took the high road after Iowa state lawmakers passed their bill attacking public employees back in 2017. Although that law gave administrators the power to unilaterally gut our contracts, the Cedar Rapids district chose to maintain a full and fair contract for five years, holding wage reopeners in the final four years of the agreement.

As a result, both the custodians and the secretaries have their contract language locked in for the remainder of the agreement. In their wage reopener this year, the custodians got a 1.5 percent across-the-board raise. The secretaries worked hard to maintain their wage steps and won a 15-cent an hour boost for every member.

CENTRAL DEWITT COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT

Unfortunately, Central DeWitt is one of the district’s that decided to take the low road after the legislature passed the 2017 law attacking public employees. They unilaterally removed all non-wage-related language in the contract.

Nevertheless, our two bargaining units at Central DeWitt still made progress on pay in their one-year contract. The Central DeWitt aides got a 30-cent an hour across-the-board raise and the custodians won a 40-cent an hour across-the-board raise.

CLINTON COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT

The Clinton school district had initially wanted a one-year contract — which would force a quick recertification vote under the rigged rules of the 2017 state law — but we pushed back and secured a three-year agreement with wage reopeners in the second and third year.

The Clinton custodians won a strong across-the-board raise of $1.08 an hour. But the district seems not to appreciate the critical role that our bus drivers and monitors play in ensuring the safety of students. The district gave a raise of 32 cents an hour for drivers and 22 cents an hour for monitors. Those compensation levels will make it harder to retain the dedicated drivers and monitors Clinton students need, and we’ll be pressing that point in our wage reopener with the district next year.

DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT

Dubuque is a union town. And our custodians there proved it by winning a strong two-year contract. Unlike districts that seek to gut contracts, the administration there worked with us to improve contract language, and we also worked out an agreement to avoid the cumbersome recertification process going forward. The custodians also won a solid 70-cent an hour across-the-board raise this year, and will have a wage reopener next year.

IOWA CITY COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT

The Iowa City schools are facing a $5 million deficit next year, so our physical plant staff there took a strategic approach to bargaining. They accepted a modest 25-cent an hour across-the-board raise and then worked to win dramatic improvements in their contract language. They made major progress on discharge and discipline language by getting a “just cause” provision included in the agreement.

By helping out the district financially this year, our Iowa City members have a good feeling about our wage reopener next year. We were also encouraged that several Iowa City school board members attended bargaining and seemed firmly committed to a high-road relationship with district employees.

PLEASANT VALLEY COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT

Pleasant Valley is another high-road district that understands that working with employees is a much better policy than fighting them. Back in 2018, the district negotiated a five-year deal with full and fair contract language. And the contract includes wage reopeners in the final four years of the agreement. This year, our Pleasant Valley custodians negotiated a solid pay package with a 41-cent an hour across-the-board raise that represented a 2.25 percent total increase.

CONCLUSION

All in all, this was a strong season of bargaining for public school members. Two years ago, when Iowa lawmakers forced through their bill attacking public employees, things looked grim for all our public sector members. But the hard work by so many of our members showed not only is it possible to survive in this new environment, it’s even possible to thrive.

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