01/06/2010

Tulsa School Workers Fight for Promised Raises

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School support workers in Tulsa, Okla., took their contract agreement door to door on New Year's Eve, visiting the homes of every school board member starting with the board president.

Members of AFT 6049 Oklahoma voted on Dec. 12 to ratify a new contract providing a 28-cent hourly pay increase. Since then, the school superintendent has been claiming he never struck a deal on the contract that applies to all 3,000 school custodians, bus drivers and mechanics represented by AFT 6049. The average school support staffer in Tulsa makes less than $18,000 per year.

"Maybe it's buyer's remorse," local president Kelly Simon told a Tulsa newspaper, "but the superintendent now wants to deny there ever was an agreement and wants to shortchange these low-wage workers."

The school district signed off on a tentative agreement at the end of November. An argument arose after the fact, Simon explains, not on the size of the raise but about how the money would be doled out. Superintendent Keith Ballard now says the Tulsa schools offered a 2 percent raise for all support employees but that no agreement had been reached. But Simon carried a copy of the signed agreement with her to a Jan. 4 school board meeting at which the superintendent called the union back to the table.

Accompanied by local TV crews, AFT members arrived on the icy morning of Dec. 31 at the home of school board president Lana Turner-Addison, who told them the board had yet to consider the issue. Of seven school board members, three did not answer the door and four chatted with the small delegation of union members. One spoke through the door, while another invited them to come in and sit down.

"When they opened the door, they saw a bunch of smiling faces," Simon recalls. To make their point, members of AFT 6049 left 28 cents at the doorstep of each board member, along with a card asking for their support and wishing them a Happy New Year.

Candace Atchison, a special education bus driver for the Tulsa Public Schools for 25 years, understands that the city is facing hard times, but as a 60-year-old widow, she's also counting on that raise to help her survive. "Twenty-eight cents is not a lot of money to some people," she says, "but to us, it's a lot." [Annette Licitra]

January 6, 2010