June 04, 2020

Rockford Public Schools locals win contracts, help community

Members of three AFSCME local unions at Rockford Public Schools won fair contracts this spring, guaranteeing wage increases and protecting critical community services from privatization. They also stepped up as a team to ensure area families had food security during the COVID-19 crisis.

AFSCME Local 692 represents paraprofessionals who assist students and teachers at the Rockford school district. AFSCME Local 1275 represents school bus drivers. And AFSCME Local 3210 represents nutrition services employees.

Making gains at the table

The school district was demanding cuts and concessions during negotiations, but the 750 AFSCME members pushed back on the district’s proposals for a short contract, limited wage increases and reduced health care options.

In the end, all three locals won five-year agreements with wage increases in every year of the agreement, enough to manage a modest increase in employee health insurance contributions and build a better life for their families.

“Our committee dug in, did the research, and put long evenings into crafting proposals,” said a statement issued by the Local 692 bargaining committee. “We informed RPS district 205 how important paraprofessionals are to the lives of the students, and our need for a fair contract to recruit and retain quality employees. We won.”

Local 1275 President Catina Barnett said her proudest accomplishment was getting a five-year agreement.

“That’s a big deal because every contract the conversation of outsourcing our employment is always on the table,” Barnett said. “That’s always their big threat—we can take your jobs; we can outsource you. We stood our ground and said, stop threatening our jobs, give us job security.”

Sharon Holloway, president of Local 3210, said she was also excited by the five-year deal and the annual raises that come with it.

“It’s exciting and it was a long time coming,” she said of the raises, but she also said the local isn’t stopping their push for higher wages. “We still have battles to win with the school district.”

Helping feed families

Now that bargaining is over, these same AFSCME members are staying united during the COVID-19 crisis to help their school community—and beyond.

While schools are closed and unemployment claims are skyrocketing, many students and families are hurting and in need of food assistance. These school employees are volunteering to prepare meals and deliver them to central locations for distribution to anyone who asks for a meal.

“We have a lot of volunteers, preparing, bagging, getting the meals to the different sites to make sure we’re ready for the public and handing them out,” Barnett said. “All three locals help. The demand is extreme in the community, we know because we run out of food every time.

“I’m thankful that members are more than willing to step up,” she said. “We took volunteers because we didn’t want to put it on members who had elderly parents or children at home who really needed to be home. Within in an hour, I had dozens of volunteers asking what we needed them to do.”

“We’re stepping up everywhere saying we’re here for our members and our community,” Holloway said. “That’s what unions are there for: We’re here to help people when they need it.” 

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