This article is continuing our coverage of the contract struggle of paraprofessionals (education support staff) in Somerville, MA fighting for a living wage and job security.
Their demands are:
- A starting salary of $25,000 a year;
- Job security after 4 years of employment;
- A two-year contract so we negotiate at the same time as teachers.
In January, over 200 people participated in a stand out, followed by marching into the Somerville School Committee meeting. Teachers, paras, and community members all spoke in public comment about the vital role paras play in our schools and the importance of paying us a living wage. Even after our packing of the School Committee meeting, which has never happened before in Somerville, the School Committee came back at the next bargaining session not offering one cent more! The School Committee got a 41% pay raise last year, but won’t pay us – the skilled professionals who care for their district’s children every single day – $25,000 per year.
The School Committee has recently claimed that “paras’ jobs are half-time jobs.” But working a full school day Monday through Friday is a full time job! Many paras work second and even third jobs to make ends meet given the rising cost of living. This is clearly an attempt by the School Committee to divide the struggle and make the paraprofessionals seem unreasonable for wanting to earn a living wage.
Leading up to the School Committee meeting, paraprofessionals and teachers held successful walk-ins at schools across the district. This is a great way for us to build up consistent solidarity in our union, across the community, and to train activists for future contract negotiations. We need to keep these walk-ins going and begin to think about how to escalate this tactic. As a next step we need to consider walking out together to protest the school committee’s most recent lies and unwillingness to negotiate. By standing together we can let the School Committee know that paras deserve full time wages for a full time job!
On February 24, approximately 100 paras, teachers, and community members went to a second School Committee meeting. We took over the meeting, controlled the agenda through chanting and making clear asks of individual School Committee members and the Somerville mayor. By exerting huge pressure on them we were able to win a demand that School Committee members should at least discuss coming to contract negotiations which, typically they are unwilling to do, and instead send a lawyer to carry out their dirty work. The School Committee was put on notice last night that if they continue spreading lies and attacking the paras they will be met with even more of a fightback!
We know what’s at stake with this contract battle. Para contracts are up in neighboring districts: if we win a strong contract in Somerville, paraprofessionals in other districts will also be inspired to fight for what they need to be successful educators, like a living wage and job security. A victory in Somerville will show what’s possible. We’re going to keep this fight going and are leaving all options open to win a contract paras deserve!