Better support and salary reform for our paraprofessional members, a personal statement by Assistant Secretary Candidate Marie “Para” Wausnock:
I have been a paraprofessional for 7 years, and as I got my feet wet working for the DOE as a paraprofessional, I found myself asking who has been watching the store for paras in regards to our salary, benefits and more. I started speaking to paras with 10, 20, 30 years and they all had the same disposition….that the UFT contract is teacher friendly and we are treated as steerage.
Contract after contract paras are left behind. You may hear our Chapter leader celebrating the 50th year anniversary of paraprofessionals. Well she may be celebrating, but most paras are not because we are so far behind in being offered a livable wage. That is the number one priority for paras; a livable wage. As our Chapter leader is constantly telling people how she worked with no benefits and earned $2.50 in 1965…that just shows us how irrelevant she is, as we appreciate her work back then, but is 2019 and we don’t care what you earned back then.
Before the last contract, our union president stood in front of the delegate assembly and said that, and I quote, “we had to do something for the paras, because they are the lowest paid people in the UFT”. I highly object to this statement and way of thinking because that is not the problem. I accept that paras are the lowest paid people in the UFT and that is because we are not teachers, we are not school secretaries or nurses, or OT/PT, etc, as they ALL earn more than paras, so YES we are the lowest paid, BUT we should not be poorly paid. We need salary reform across the board; not a 2% raise on our salaries!
This new contract that is upon us, gave due process to paras. YES YES YES, we get it, that’s important, and its a good thing, but it was not enough. To address that, and I don’t know if I am saying this correctly…..the paras that screw up and get in trouble are given due process, (again thats a good thing), but the hard working devoted paras get nothing out of that, and I believe there are more paras that do NOT need due process than those that do.
To address line of duty, paras do not get line of duty injury protections. Paras work with some of our most vulnerable youth and are likely to get hurt by violent students. Paras deserve more line of duty protections.
To address our salary, they are throwing us some crumbs with one time increases at the 5 year and 15 year marks. Again not good.
Every member of the UFT get longevity raises at 5, 10, 13, 15, 18, 20 and 22 years of service….paras only get at 5 and 15. Who let this happen? Paras should get increases at the same intervals as every other UFT member.
Additionally, as a teacher you know that you also get raises every few years….paras only get salary raises based on college credits.
Yes, the DOE will pay for a paras college classes, but many paras can not take advantage of that because they may be a single parent, have a family to support, works a second job, etc. and does not have the time. The DOE and the UFT have to stop selling the song that “a paraprofessionals job is a career ladder to become a teacher”. NO NO NO….Yes its there for those who want to become a teacher, but there are paras who do not, there are paras who needed a job and took this. The culture of the DOE has to change as they can’t use a business model from 30 years ago.
The City of NY had PLENTY of money and paras deserve a full overhaul of our salary…and its based on how the job has evolved over the last 50 years…we are not sitting in the back of the room cutting out paper dolls.
I can tell you from personal experience that as much as they say they are making it easy for paras to go to college, well that is not true any more. I know paras who went to college thru the DOE and never paid a dime out of their pocket. As times change, so did the college voucher plan. I get that even on the high end, its still a bargain, but when I started college semesters I had to pay $65 out of pocket, then is went up to $80, then $90, then $110, and it stood at $110 for a while. Most of these increases were due to the college raising their fees, but the last raise went from $110 to $265. Thats a huge increase and it was not done by the colleges, but by the UFT and DOE agreeing to now only pay for college credits and they would not cover any fees. This was a hardship for many paras. Paras who are going to college are not at the top of the salary chart, thats why they are going to school, so they not taking home much each paycheck, then you ask for $265. Long story short here, I wrote to the president of Empire State College and after many emails, I got them to give a one time $100 credit to any matriculated para that is enrolled at Empire. 440 paras got that credit. Its easy math to to, when the DOE started offering to pay for college credits for pars, there were not 28,000 paras in the system. So as more and more paras were going to school, they found a way to make some cuts.
So besides salary reform, paras want retention rights for per session work, just like teachers get, and we want separate paychecks for per session work just like teachers.