Oregon Visit Highlights Work of Early Childhood Workers

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A huge and troubling discrepancy remains between the importance of early childhood educators' work and their pay and working conditions, AFT executive vice president Lorretta Johnson said during an April 26 visit to two child care centers in the Portland, Ore., area.

Lorretta Johnson visits childcare center in Oregon

Lorretta Johnson presents a Worthy Wage Day quilt to teacher Naomi Seeger. Local president Kandas Bracken is in the middle.


The visits coincided with national Worthy Wage Day events. Worthy Wage Day is a national public awareness campaign to draw attention to the importance of early childhood education, and to call for better wages, benefits, professional development and working conditions for early childhood and pre-K workers. The campaign is celebrating its 20th anniversary on May 2.

"Despite the vital role they play in a child's development, early childhood educators are still underappreciated and underpaid, with average wages about $20,000 a year," Johnson said. "To recruit talented workers who will stay on the job, we need to treat them with respect, and that means better pay, benefits, training and a voice on the job."

Meanwhile, on the same day Johnson was in Oregon, the National Institute for Early Education Research released a survey showing big cuts in funding on preschool programs in many states. Valerie Strauss wrote about the survey in the Washington Post.

Johnson visited two child care centers—Fruit and Flower Childcare Center and the Oregon City View Manor Center–Clackamas County Head Start—to highlight how early childhood professionals are making a difference every day in the lives of young children. The workers are represented by AFT affiliates in Oregon.

"After their parents, early childhood educators are our children's first teachers. They play an important role in a child's development, and can instill a love of learning that can make the difference between success and failure in school," Johnson said.

Johnson's first visit was to the Fruit and Flower Childcare Center, which has been operating in Portland for more than a century. "Back in the day, we referred to centers like this as 'nurseries.' But now we know that they're so much more than that. We've been learning how important these first years are, and we truly give them an age-appropriate education," she said.

Later, at the Oregon City View Manor Center–Clackamas County Head Start, Johnson discussed how Head Start programs are crucial for children from low-income families because the achievement gap can start as early as 9 months old. And parents who work or want to pursue a college education need access to high-quality child care. "If we're serious about leveling the playing field for all families, programs like Head Start must be preserved and fully funded," she said. [AFT press release/photo by Leah Nash, video by Matthew Jones and Brett Sherman]

April 26, 2011