Local 1390.08 Fills Board Meeting and Gains Teacher’s and Student’s Support

On February 26, 2024, members of Local 1390.08 stood in solidarity filling the room at the East Lansing Schools Board Meeting.  Through the sea of green shirts, ribbons, and stickers that read “pay is earned, not inherited” there was one message that stood loud and clear, Local 1390.08 was going to have their voice heard. 

In the summer of 2023, the group of administrative assistants began negotiations on their first contract as an AFSCME local. While negotiations ground to a halt and went to mediation, Local 1390.08 wanted to ensure the Board of Education was aware of their number one concern, inequity in bargaining member pay.

While they were between contracts, the administration hired someone with a personal relationship to management. The prior contract established the position as a grade one to four. The new hire, with their personal relationship to management, was instead hired at a grade 12. On their first day, this individual surpassed a dozen other members, some of whom had more than a decade of experience.

Coni Ward has served the district for over nine years as Whitehill’s Elementary Administrative Assistant and was one of the individuals that was surpassed. During her public comment at the East Lansing Schools Board Meeting, Ward questioned how valued she was, “What the decision said to me is my job is worth less, means less, and is far less valuable than a benefits coordinator.  What I do all day, is somehow less important than what they do all day… I take care of children and their families.  I dry children’s tears, stop blood, cradle them on the floor in my lap during a seizure from a high fever, tell them it’s okay when they throw up on my keyboard, tell them lots of kids wet their pants, no big deal.  I hold hands, give hugs, remind them of their worth, reward them for their good choices, and let them know when they make bad ones they are not bad kids, just made a bad choice… I build relationships and continuously help build a bigger, more inclusive, Whitehill’s community. I do all of this while answering the phone, pushing door buttons, talking on a walkie-talkie, creating, and maintaining all of our school records, and keeping track of who to call for a sick child.  I assist 30 plus employees, help with timesheets, answer all their questions and I assist a principal every day.”

Another member of the bargaining team, and Chief Steward from Local 1390.08, Kristen Pfaendtner shared her story. When she accepted a position with the promise of higher pay at the High School, she was instead bait-and-switched into a much lower rate than promised, for much more work.

Now, with the current issue at hand, Pfaendtner is questioning the administration using the same language of perceived unfairness. “During negotiations, it was adamantly explained that the district did nothing illegal as we did not have union representation at the time of hire. It would not have been illegal to grant me the longevity pay I was told I would be getting with a Letter of Agreement, however, it was explained that it would be perceived as “potential unfairness” by the other members in our union. So, while the district did nothing illegal, was it fair?”

Adam Orange from the East Lansing Education Association spoke in solidarity with Local 1390.08. The teachers are planning to wear green in support of the union and “work to rule” on Friday, strictly enforcing start and end times to the workday. “Working to rule” is a powerful work action of strictly following rules at work. It demonstrates how much extra work people do and the power of working people in action at the same time.

Along with the teachers, students also want to show their solidarity with the administrative staff that makes such a difference in their lives every day. High school students are encouraging each other to wear green to support the Local and their endeavors for a fair contract.

“I love my job, absolutely without question, I will continue to do it as long as the families and staff of Whitehills will have me.  But having sat in negotiations and seeing the reality of where they feel my worth lies, will be an endured sadness that hovers over me from now on,” said Ward.

These individuals love their schools, their children, and the community. They will continue to stand for what is fair and fight for the contract that they deserve.