Numerous education support professionals are seeing improvements to their salaries, benefits and working conditions thanks to contract negotiations.
ESPs have been on the frontlines of the pandemic response, most often being the workers staffing the in-person child care, delivering meals and materials, and doing the one-on-one, in-person support for students who need it.
“When we feel better, confident and less stressed so do the students we help,” said Jamie Yokley, an ESP and negotiations team member in Ada-Borup-West.
Ada-Borup-West settled its first contract as a part of Education Minnesota this November. Negotiators bargained numerous wins that they hadn’t received before, including paid holidays, reducing their salary schedule from 20 to 12 steps, a health insurance increase, a $500 403b match, a $500 COVID stipend, guaranteed representation on district committees, a 2.5 percent increase on the salary schedule each year and longevity increases.
“All of the wins, better pay, more pay toward our health insurance, paid holidays and all the rest were important to me, because now I feel like I have a voice,” said Yokley. “It not only helps us paraprofessionals but it helps the students too.”
In Oglivie, the ESP local bargained an overall total package increase of just under 23 percent for its two-year contract.
“Employees are thrilled with the wage increase,” said Lori DeYoung, Oglivie ESP lead negotiator. “Also the OESPA employees were pleased that the union and Ogilvie School District worked together to get the back pay to the employees in their paycheck before winter break.”
Oglivie ESPs bargained to cut the first three steps from the salary schedule each year and added a 1 percent increase to the salary schedule each year. As this resulted in some individuals gaining more per hour than others, the union negotiated a minimum increase to each employee’s hourly rate. In the first year, each employee receives no less than $1.30 per hour increase and in year two, no less than $1.07. This also resulted in step 1 increasing from $12.55 to $14.63 over two years.
Other contract wins for Oglivie were an increased vacation/paid time off payout upon retirement from 50 percent to between 70-90 percent based on years of service and slight increases to their health insurance.
The paraprofessionals in Byron settled their contract last summer, with a major focus on being able to retain the staff they had and recruit more, as well.
The local bargained for pay raises, family health insurance that is affordable, removing the superintendent approval of their personal days and limiting or getting rid of the paras having to work at the before- and after-school program on snow days and giving them the decision on how they would like to get paid for that day.
“As a result of bargaining, we have retained all the paras we have and have hired all but one or two paras we need for the district, with a $1.25 raise this year and $1 next year and moving up two steps starting this year,” said Karen Grev, the local president of the Byron ESPs.
The other wins give paras more autonomy in their work, with choosing if they want to work on snow days or take a personal day, and having their personal days that had been approved by the superintendent moved to approval by the building administrator with no reason for the request needed.
“We didn’t go in with much on the bargaining table to start out with, but we were able to get them to listen to us and to understand why the paras as a group were unhappy with some of the policies the district had,” said Grev. “We also didn’t get some things we wanted but as a group in whole we were happy with the way we were treated, which wasn’t always the case in other years, and the items we did get were fair to all.”