At a moment when there's so much bad news, here's some good news: School and college support staff keep joining the 1.7 million-member AFT to increase their voice and their power. Paraprofessionals and school-related personnel in two states, Florida and New Mexico, topped the list of new members coming to AFT PSRP in recent months.
Of two victories in New Mexico, one was for nearly 250 school bus drivers and attendants in Albuquerque in December, and another for 33 educational assistants in Socorro in October. The paras (shown above with AFT Executive Vice President Mary Cathryn Ricker in the middle) joined the Socorro School Employees Association, while the school bus employees (shown celebrating below) signed on with the Albuquerque Educational Assistants Association.
Using a process that combines card check with aspects of an election, AFT New Mexico is welcoming the bus drivers and attendants, and hopes to bring in all the school district's transportation contractors soon, according to Kathy Chavez, president of AEAA and an AFT vice president, who has been working closely with activist members on reaching out to fellow employees. Their success so far comes despite "so many issues," she adds, including an uncooperative governor and a lackluster state economy.
Chavez credits AFT New Mexico President Stephanie Ly and teacher leader Ellen Bernstein for putting their reputations on the line and being "really creative" in working with the school boards to support workers in both Albuquerque and Socorro. "We knew we had the numbers," she says, "and sure enough, we pulled it off."
In Socorro, the state labor board certified the outcome, which saved money but required a close working relationship between the union and the superintendent. "They trusted us to be fair and reasonable," says Nicole Kinney, president of the Socorro local.
In addition to the K-12 victories, blue-collar technical workers and professional staff at nearby Highlands University are close to securing their first contract.
Meanwhile, in Santa Rosa, Fla., located in the state's northwestern panhandle, PSRPs voted 156-139 in November to return to the Florida Education Association after several years away from a merged AFT-National Education Association union there. The successful campaign was run by FEA and supported by the AFT and NEA. As a result, 600 PSRPs in Santa Rosa are now back in the AFT family.