They marched. They waved signs. They spoke up at school board hearings. They spoke out in the community.
The school bus drivers, custodians, food workers and other school support staff who joined together under AFSCME Local 1584 (AFSCME Florida) earned a hard-fought victory in their fight to wrest a new contract from the Manatee County School Board.
They had to go door to door, organizing their co-workers and rallying support in the community. But thanks to a 20 percent growth in membership over the past year and a never quit mentality, they remained focused.
“Our commitment to the students and families we serve drives everything we do, and we kept that in the forefront of all of our negotiations and communications,” said Deanna Howell, president of Local 1584 and a bus driver for 13 years.
The new contract includes the first base pay raise in more than five years for many workers; for some, it’s been longer. Pay steps will increase between 2 and 6 percent, depending on an employee’s current level. Tool allowances are more than doubling. Perfect and exemplary attendance bonuses will increase to up to $1,000, double the current maximum.
The local also now has the time to speak to employees at back-to-school workshops and conferences about the importance of joining AFSCME. And labor-management and safety committees are being created in which AFSCME representatives can participate without loss of pay.
“The county devotes so little funding to our schools when compared to neighboring counties that we have a lot of work to do to attract and retain the workforce these schools need,” said Howell. “And while this contract doesn’t get us all the way there, it is a massive step in the right direction.”
Next on the agenda for Local 1584’s members: turning their attention to getting school funding on a more equitable footing with neighboring counties through a March special election. Members voted to endorse a property tax increase and are now working with community partners and the school board to ensure voters understand why its passage is important.
“We cannot attract the businesses we need, build the community we want or even develop the next generation of leaders we hope to have if we continue to deliver the type of funding to our children that we have been,” said bus driver Robert Hicks.