By Kevin Hart
From Maine to Michigan to Montana, nothing brings a smile to Snow Belt students’ faces faster than a snow day. But these unscheduled interruptions to the school year have a dark side for many hourly and per-diem education support professionals, who may experience lost wages and lighter paychecks when school is canceled.
Lost wages from snow days was a recent topic of discussion on the official National Education Association Facebook page.
“Where I live, snow days are treated just like holidays that occur on Tuesdays or Thursdays,” said Nevada ESP Charles Parker. “We’re required to use a vacation day, or lose a day’s pay. An unpaid day then affects your state retirement.”
ESP Janette Duart said she also has had to use personal days to keep from losing pay on snow days. And losing even one day’s pay can be devastating for ESPs, who are often not paid a living wage and frequently live paycheck to paycheck.
And not all ESPs have vacation days and personal time they can use to ensure they are paid on snow days. Particularly for part-time or per-diem workers, a snow day means lost wages and difficult financial decisions.
“Many ESPs are hourly employees — such as aides, monitors, food service and others — who lose a day’s pay when there is a snow day,” said Margaret MacCartney, a long-time ESP who now works for NEA affiliate New York State United Teachers on behalf of ESPs. “These employees, who typically are on the lower end of the pay scales, really count on their paychecks. They really feel the pinch when they lose a day’s work to weather.”
Nancy Juliano is a teaching assistant from Syracuse, NY — and if there was a city that invented snow, Syracuse may be it. City-Data.com ranks Syracuse as first in the nation for average annual snowfall for cities with populations in excess of 50,000.
While Juliano is proud that her union has been able to negotiate snow days for ESPs, she points out that part-time, per-diem and non-permanent workers still feel the pinch.
“We have substitute teaching assistants, for example, who won’t get paid when school is closed for snow days,” she said.
NEA and its affiliates have aggressively campaigned for better salaries and benefits for ESPs, and believe all ESPs should be paid a living wage. More information about NEA’s advocacy on behalf of ESPs is available at NEA.org.