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PSRPs expand reach to educational support staff worldwide

Leaders of AFT PSRP, representing paraprofessionals and school-related personnel across America, played host to leaders from Public Services International last month as part of an unprecedented effort to link PSRPs with their counterparts throughout the world.

The initiative sprang from conversations at a PSI meeting in South Africa last year among AFT secretary-treasurer Lorretta Johnson, PSRP chair and AFT vice president Ruby Newbold, and educational support workers from many countries. The effort involves hundreds of thousands of support staff globally, most of whom work without job security or the freedom to form a union and collectively bargain their pay and working conditions.

AFT Secretary-Treasurer Lorretta Johnson at PSI meeting.

"So often, we think we're on our little island, in our little state," says Newbold, president of the Detroit Association of Educational Office Employees. "But our issues are the same. Globally, they're the same. When you hear the naysayers ask why it's always us, know this: It's not only us. These issues are everywhere."

In a meeting at AFT headquarters on April 20, Johnson welcomed the international visitors, explained to them how she had risen through the ranks of our union's 375,000 PSRPs, and described typical jobs for PSRPs in public schools and colleges across the United States, including administrative professionals, custodians, skilled maintenance workers, school nutrition workers and transportation workers.

Johnson then introduced PSI general secretary Rosa Pavanelli, who elaborated on plans by PSI and the AFT to build a strong affiliate network of educational support worker unions. PSI leaders and the AFT PSRPs discussed common interests, such as winning labor rights, promoting health and safety in the workplace, fighting privatization, and earning recognition as champions of high-quality public services. They heard reports from Canada, Mexico and South Korea, and made plans to advance their efforts through this new network. After the morning meeting, they joined a Robin Hood tax rally at the World Bank to call for financial transaction taxes.

AFT PSRP leaders acknowledged Fabian Coulart and Marcelo de Stefano of Argentina for attending the annual PSRP conference in Minneapolis in March, where they represented college support staff who belong to CONTUA, the 20-nation Confederation of Workers of the Universities of the Americas. [Annette Licitra/photo by Michael Campbell]

May 2, 2013