On July 24, Western Mass. Jobs with Justice and community allies leafleted customers and workers inside the Hadley, MA Walmart. Among those participating was Jeff Jones and Heather LaPenn from the UFCW 1459 staff, as well as stewards Phil Bekech from Store 94 and Nate Garand from Store 9.
The leafleting was part of a coordinated federal and statewide action in support of raising the minimum wage. At present there is a bill in the Mass. State Legislature to raise the state minimum wage to $11 over 3 years.
Walmart is one of the worst employers in the country with an average wage of $8.81/hr. At that rate workers cannot afford the meager company insurance plan so they end up on public assistance. Today’s gathering was coordinated with Jobs with Justice, UFCW and the Our Walmart campaign for dignity on the job for Walmart workers.
In March, UFCW Local 1459 Teachers and Teachers Aide Interventionists at Tri-County School sent a letter to the Board of Directors of NCYF, signed by more than half the Teachers and TAIs, requesting they address the deteriorating conditions at the school, the unjust termination of their union steward, and their lack of confidence in the management team. After repeated requests for a response, the Board sent a letter stating that they did not want to get involved.
Local 1459 President Daniel P. Clifford has filed grievances for all the terminations and suspensions. These terminations and suspensions have left classrooms without their teachers in the middle of the school year, while aides and substitute teachers scramble to temporarily fill the vacancies.
“Administration avoids direct communication [with teachers and aides] regarding school challenges, decisions, and policy. Teachers feel they are being harassed, bullied and taken for granted. Failure to replace educators has left classrooms understaffed and in some cases without teachers” explained Tracy McCarthy, a teacher who was put on unpaid leave after the school could not accommodate her food allergy.
Local 1459 has also filed several Unfair Labor Practice Charges with Region One of the National Labor Relations Board in Boston against NCYF over the last several of months, including charges of bad faith bargaining, and violating federal law by threatening to retaliate against union members who voice complaints to management.
The Tri-County school received 100% compliance with the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s regulations during the last six year program review. “Achievements like this provide reassurance that we are doing the best we can, but we fear it will not be enough,” said Matthew Szulorski, who’s been a teacher at the Tri-County School for four years now. “Wonderful veteran staff are talking about leaving the school; the students here thrive due to the caring and committed staff who teach them.”
Below you can read the letter workers at Tri-County Schools wrote to ask for the community to support their rights and the quality of education of their students.
To Our Neighbors in the Community:
We are the educators of Tri-County Schools (part of Northeast Center for Youth and Families [NCYF]) in Easthampton, Massachusetts. We are teachers and instructional aides, members of UFCW Local 1459. Our students come from many school districts in Western Massachusetts. Your tax dollars fund their tuitions. These students have had considerable behavioral and social/emotional difficulties and depend on us to support their individual needs and to provide them with a quality education.
Ours is a most important task; we are charged with educating and nurturing those students who have been otherwise marginalized from a traditional school experience.
After many years of dedicated service, we are giving voice to our deepest concerns:
NCYF administration, led by Executive Director Paul Rilla, and the Board of Directors blatantly disregard our commitment to the school and its students, refuse to compensate us appropriately, fail to act responsibly with Agency finances, and retaliate against teaching staff who voice concerns to management.
The recent and unfair dismissals of five dedicated TCS staff members, in violation of our union contract, all of which Local 1459 is strongly contesting, has left our school in a precarious situation. We are understaffed, and this puts in jeopardy the safety of our students and staff and our ability to provide the quality education to which we aspire. Despite all this, NCYF has proposed dramatic decreases in our benefits and compensation.
We see clearly that NCYF believes that we are each easily replaceable and not the skilled, highly trained professionals that we are.
We are the educators of Tri-County Schools. We are teachers and instructional aides, and we need your support. Please contact Executive Director Paul Rilla (413-529-7334) and President of the Board of Directors Kevin R. Day (413-587-1761) to encourage good faith bargaining and to voice your support for the extraordinary work accomplished in the classrooms of Tri-County Schools.
James R. Watson