It was a sea of blue as over 120 classified school employees picketed the Burlington-Edison school board meeting on Monday, May 23rd. School employees are concerned that as the district struggles to retain staff, students aren’t getting the quality services they deserve.
“A lot of those quality employees that have been here for so long are being left with no other choice but to go to other places to earn higher pay,” said Mary Lou Rodman, a 15-year employee of the Burlington-Edison School District. “We really can’t survive on what we are making. I can say that personally. I live paycheck to paycheck. I’m a single person and it is very very hard to be able to survive.”
After four months of negotiating their contract, school employees have been left waiting for a meaningful response as the district continues to cancel bargaining meetings. With no apparent answer or offer in sight, many longtime staff members are left wondering what to do as they took up picket signs to send a message to the district and the community.
“I love my job, but it’s hard to stay here,” said Rodman.
“We’ve gotten so far behind, added Lori Turner, a 27-year administrative assistant with the grounds/maintenance department. “I want to make this team strong and get this contract through. We can’t go backwards anymore.”
Both Rodman and Turner worry that if the district doesn’t offer its classified staff a livable wage increase to support their families, it’s the students in the district that will suffer. School districts in surrounding areas offer their employees higher wages for the same jobs, an appealing opportunity for employees who are struggling and often living in poverty.
“You’re losing all these people that have been here for so long that know how to take care of these kids and know how to do everything,” said Rodman. “If they leave, then you are bringing in people who are really beginners. You get somebody off the street.”
“I hope they listen and are able to help these people out,” said Dick Sanderson, a bus driver from neighboring Meridian School District and PSE Zone 8 Director who came down to support the Burlington-Edison employees. “Everybody has to survive.”
“Hopefully they took notice tonight that we’re not going to take a contract that’s not fair to all of us. It’s our turn,” said maintenance employee and PSE Chapter President Rey Salinas. “We need to get paid just like everyone else, so we can take care of our kids, and so we can take care of other people’s kids–which is what we are here for.”
The district and classified staff have their next bargaining session scheduled for Wednesday, May 25th.