November 18, 2019

On the Job: Corey Colvin at Rock Island Board of Education

Corey Colvin is president of AFSCME Local 822.

Tell us about your job at Longfellow Elementary.

I’ve worked for the Rock Island school district as a custodian for 19 years. Now I’m the head custodian here at Longfellow. I start at 5 o’clock in the morning. I cover five classrooms, eight bathrooms and the office. I clean those first and then I clean the cafeteria after breakfast. After that I go outside to pick up trash, clean windows, the grounds and steps, and I’m ready to respond to any calls. As president of my local, I also handle calls from members. There is something new or a different challenge every day in this job.

What’s your inspiration to go to work every day?

It’s the best job to have in the world. I love doing what I do. That motivates me to get up every day. My mom kept a school paper from when I was young. I wrote that I wanted to be a custodian in a building when I grew up! I get a kick out of seeing the kids every morning and interacting with them. They like to laugh with you. You can build a rapport with them. You want the kids to respect you, just like you want to respect them, so I treat them like they're mine. I scold them if they’re doing something wrong and praise them when they do something right. They look up to you.

How does your job provide a valuable public service?

This is a public school. I don’t care how much money you make, we’re all here to serve these kids and that’s our job. Nobody is more important than anyone else. I service the students differently than a teacher, principal, superintendent or school board member, but the bottom line is that we’re all here for the kids. Some principals and staff may think we aren’t equal to everyone else, but if it weren’t for us the kids wouldn’t be able to come to school and learn in a clean building on a daily basis. This is a community and we’re all an important part of it.

How does the union improve your workplace?

Our union has an impact on the quality of work. The administrators and school boards are always threatening us with privatization—every four years when we negotiate our contract, it’s always on the back burner—but we fight it off. With the union, you have the same face in the building every day that the kids and staff know and feel comfortable talking to. But if you contract the work out, you might have eight or nine different people a week. The union helps with safety in the schools. Custodians have the alarm code, keys. If you contract out just to save money, you don’t know what type of person is coming, you get what the company sends.

How has your union job impacted your family?

Not only do I get a good wage and health insurance, I get the benefits of sick days, vacation days and personal days to spend time with my family. I have three girls: 23, 20 and 18 years old. I know where I’m going to be every day. I know what my hours will be on a daily basis. I was able to take my kids to school or pick them up. That stability and flexibility has been so good for my girls. They never had to want for anything. You work hard and it pays off.

Why are you active in the union?

I’ve been active for 16 years as an executive board member, a steward, vice president and now president. I thought it was important to learn the ins and outs of the union. I think every AFSCME member should. People complain, but they need to get involved to understand it. We all have to agree to do something and get involved in our local union. Everybody should be a part of it.

If you used to be fair share, remember that the Janus ruling is messed up. Because even though you don’t pay dues, you still reap the benefits and we still represent you. That’s just not right. I’m paying my union dues because if it weren’t for AFSCME, we wouldn’t have the wages and benefits that we have now, that have taken years to get. Without union negotiations, we wouldn’t get paid holidays, vacations, a nice wage or a percentage increase every year.

I tell new employees, remember that our union has always strived to get you the wages you have now. Most of the time they sign up that day. 

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