MIAMI – The bus drivers, maintenance and food service workers – and all the other hard-working men and women of AFSMCE Florida Local 1184 who make the country’s fourth-largest school system happen every day – have approved a new three-year contract with the Miami-Dade Public School system.
The contract, overwhelmingly ratified in votes cast at 10 worksites, is retroactive to July 1. The agreement includes a $10 minimum hourly wage that will help battle the county’s growing economic inequality. It also includes step increases, which workers have not had in nine years. Together, they should help the district attract more applicants to available job openings.
The union also won a key provision to limit the school board’s ability to outsource current and future jobs. AFSCME negotiators also were able to include language that will help stabilize health insurance costs, providing long-term certainty on a critical issue to both employees and the school board.
The ratification vote culminated months of intensive member-to-member outreach to learn about the workers’ priorities leading up to the negotiations. Local 1184 members also rallied and held other public events to explain why this contract matters. More than 100 workers joined the union during the ratification campaign.
“This is not just more of the same from us or from the school board,” said AFSCME Local 1184 Pres. Vicki Hall, a district school bus driver. “Thanks to our strong and united voice, this contract ensures that our jobs and rights are protected and that we are making real progress for our families and our communities.”
Noneconomic provisions will be in effect for the length of the contract, while economic issues will be subject to bargaining again at the end of this school year. During this time, AFSCME members will continue organizing their co-workers, focusing on the need for stronger job protections, retirement security and ensuring that hourly employees can qualify for employer-provided health care coverage.
“I voted yes on this contract because it is moving us in the right direction,” said Lovedes Perez, a food service worker and Local 1184 member.
“It is important for all of us to vote for this, but also to keep united as we keep working to grow and advocate for our jobs and our families,” added co-worker Aurora Soza.
Did you know that the wage gap between men and women workers has been narrowing for the past three decades? Great, right? Well it’s not for the reason you might think. It turns out that women’s wages have been stagnant since the 1970s, while men’s wages have been falling!
Dr. Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute joined members of Congress and labor leaders on Wednesday to call for progress that goes beyond closing the wage gap. “Gender wage parity will not improve women’s economic prospects if men’s and women’s wages are equal but both are stagnant,” she told a crowd at the U.S. Capitol. Instead, the EPI is proposing a 12-point Women’s Economic Agenda that addresses the many different pressures that women face in today’s economy.
Among the priorities is better access to child care and paid leave for personal or family illness. Women still bear the brunt of child care duties in the United States, but only 12 percent of private-sector employees can take paid time off to care for a family member. And few can afford regular child care. While the costs of child care are skyrocketing – it’s more expensive than rent in most parts of the country – the largely female workforce that provides this service is still struggling to get by.
Child care provider Janell Lankford told the crowd that she is barely getting by even though she works about 70 hours each week. But she strongly believes in the value of her work. “I have a passion,” she said. “I’m not going to walk away from somebody else’s children – they still need to be taught and they still need to be loved.”
Lankford is part of the Fight for 15, which is working to secure a $15 hourly wage and union rights for child care providers. The right to form a union is another important part of the Women’s Economic Agenda. Women in unions are much more likely than their nonunion counterparts to earn a living wage and benefits.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren heartily endorsed the economic agenda. She says that she owes her own success in life to the economic policies of postwar America, in which union rights were strong and the minimum wage was high enough that her mother was able to support a family with an entry-level job at Sears.
"I always get applause when I say I'm for equal pay for equal work," she said. "But real economic equality will take more changes in America's economic policies.”
Hundreds of hardworking men and women of AFSCME Local 2227 recently ratified three new contracts, providing not only a boost to members’ paychecks but also serving to protect public service jobs in the future.
The members, who proudly make Florida’s Polk County Public Schools happen, united to pass strong contracts for bus drivers and bus attendants, food service staff and for maintenance, custodial and vehicle services employees.
Along with stopping any harmful changes to employee health care and retirement plans, the contracts will help the local make good progress toward its goal of adding 100 new members by the end of the year. More than 60 new members have already joined and a new membership committee kicked off with the new school year.
Increasing wages was a priority for the union, not only because it puts more money into members’ pockets, but because it will help recruit new employees.
“In recent years we’ve had a problem filling open positions because starting pay in many positions was just not competitive,” said Local 2227 Pres. Larry Milhorne, a carpenter in the maintenance department’s Lake Wales Shop. “When you can’t fill positions, you open yourself up to outsourcing. And when you start getting your jobs outsourced that really could be the death of your union.”
Each contract’s step increases were improved to ensure that all workers will get a pay raise. Also, starting pay is higher, especially for food service employees who saw their starting pay jump from $8.05 an hour to $10 an hour. That increase is expected to entice more people to apply for openings, thereby reducing the threat of outsourcing their work to for-profit companies.
Besides protecting retirement and health care plans from cuts, the contracts included new worker participation provisions -- a new field trip committee for bus drivers and worker input on testing for open maintenance positions.
“We did some good things with these contracts,” said Milhorne. “We saved some jobs, and we’ve already seen the hiring pick up. So I’m confident in saying we met our goals.”
This past Election Day, school cafeteria workers sent a clear message that there are consequences to putting corporate profit ahead of children’s nutrition, voting out a majority on the Bristol (Connecticut) Board of Education that tried to outsource school lunch service.
Proponents of the outsourcing plan held a 5-4 majority, but failed to garner public support for the measure when they introduced it in 2013. Mobilizing under the name “Lunch Ladies Rock,” the hardworking cafeteria workers helped elect a new board with a 6-3 majority adamantly opposed to privatizing school nutrition services.
“Bristol voters, by their overwhelming rejection of outsourcing, sent a powerful reminder that when people really know what’s going on, they will stand up for other working families and demand fairness from elected officials,” said Sal Luciano, AFSCME Council 4 executive director and also International vice president.
The hardworking women and men went beyond traditional means of rallies and Board of Education speak-outs to build a community to disseminate their message and garner public support for their fight. The Lunch Ladies Rock Facebook page proved to be an important tool to inform the community of the dangers of outsourcing. It also allowed workers to communicate their commitment to the students they serve to parents and neighbors alike.
“It’s been a long, hard struggle, but justice finally prevailed,” said Local 2267 Vice Pres. Kathy Martin, who spent 15 years as a cafeteria worker before becoming a paraprofessional this month. “Our members saw outsourcing as a threat not only to the jobs we love but to the children we serve. We stopped this recklessness by connecting with our community.”