March 03, 2017

Rockford schools employees set to strike

Rockford school bus drivers, nutrition service workers and paraprofessionals will begin a three-day strike action on March 15 if the school board continues its refusal to bargain in good faith with them before then. The three AFSCME locals—692, 1275 and 3210—sent a legal notice of intent to strike to the school board on March 2 and the workers announced the action at a Rockford union hall that night.

More than 900 paraprofessionals, nutrition service workers and bus drivers in the Rockford schools educate, feed and transport some 27,000 Rockford children daily—18,000 of who ride the bus. Yet the board pays workers only poverty wages and is demanding new costs for health care that employees simply can’t afford.

Refusing to compromise, the school board recently took steps to unilaterally impose its own demands without agreement from the employees and their union.

“School board members seem to think it’s OK to pay poverty wages, 14 or 16,000 dollars a year,” AFSCME Council 31 Staff Representative Ed Sadlowski said. “The board members seem to think it’s OK to raise workers’ costs for health care, putting health insurance out of reach for many workers. The board members seem to think it’s OK to take food off the table of these Rockford families at the same time the board is sitting on a surplus of more than $100 million. We are here to say it is not OK. Working people deserve better.”

“As a parent in the school district, I know I’m doing an important job,” AFSCME Local 1275 President Ashley Smith said. She has been a bus driver at the district for three years. “But as a single mom, I also need my job to support my family. And at five or six hundred dollars every two weeks, my income is not enough to make ends meet.”

“We need fair wages so we are able to pay our bills,” said Donna Henderson, the president of AFSCME Local 692 and a paraprofessional at the district for 24 years. “Right now a lot of us qualify for food stamps and other government assistance. It’s not fair for the board to demand so much from us when we are some of the lowest-paid employees in the district.”

The schools employees previously voted to authorize a strike if a fair contract agreement was not reached.

“We are here tonight because we need a fair wage in order to be able to live an average life, but the school board will not negotiate with us,” cafeteria manager and AFSCME Local 3210 President Madeleine Sherod said. “We’re not asking to get rich; we’re asking them to pay us fairly for a day’s work.”

“If the board continues to refuse to negotiate in good faith,” Sadlowski said, “then as of Wednesday morning, March 15, bus drivers, nutrition service workers and paraprofessionals will be on strike.”

View news covereage: Rockford Register Star, WIFR, WTVO, and WREX.

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