New York Support Professionals Win Contract

New York Teacher

After more than two tough years of building support and creating pressure, the union local representing education support professionals in Vestal, N.Y., finally reached an agreement that makes gains and establishes them as a strong voice in the community.

The Vestal Association of School Paraprofessionals, led by local president Mary-Ann Grate, used a positive agenda of community outreach, member involvement and strategic planning aided by New York State United Teacher resources to stay on a path to success.

As part of the win, they agreed to a four-year contract covering 2007-11. Members will receive retroactive payments back to 2007 — a 5 percent-per-year increase for members for all four years.

The 160-member group includes school aides and monitors, working in the district’s seven schools, in their libraries, technology and language labs, study halls, cafeterias, playgrounds, front offices and guidance departments. They work with special education students who may need help in their physical care activities as well as with behavior management needs.

The win is now tempered by the harsh reality facing many locals across the state, as some of their co-workers may be losing their jobs in proposed program and position cuts.

The local’s hard work was motivated by seeing too many colleagues unable to pay their bills and feed their families. “Some have to work two or three jobs,” Grate said.

Going into bargaining, almost 90 percent of the aides and monitors were making less than $10.10 an hour.

One leader and bargainer in the effort, Mary Ann Bynes, became a face of the campaign in the community. A 26-year veteran, she spoke about the struggles of making ends meet on less than $16,000 a year.

“Dust off your shoes and be ready to do some foot work, attending board meetings or canvassing in your neighborhood,” she said. She went door-to-door in some Vestal neighborhoods with other members, explaining their effort.

Shirley Macchiano, a local vice president and bargaining team member, joked about the duration of the bargaining. She had no grandchildren at the onset, but by the time things were wrapped up she had four.

Assistance from the New York State United Teachers — the state affiliate — was crucial. The affiliate helped with press statements and outreach efforts, bargaining research to bolster the local’s arguments about the need for a livable wage and benefits, and financial aid to assist the local in reaching out to the community, including a billboard on a major local road.