Pittsfield school employees ask board for 'fair, living wage'

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PITTSFIELD — Union members representing about 300 nonprofessional employees in the Pittsfield school system have issued a plea to the School Committee for a "fair, living wage."

Two members of clerical workers unit of Local 1315 of the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees, which represents five groups of workers in city schools, want pay increases and step-raise changes they contend are overdue.

Deb Cebula, a 21-year clerical employee in city schools, told committee members Wednesday that a survey of neighboring and comparable school districts "found a significant disparity in pay."

A Central Berkshire School District first-year secretary, Cebula said, earns "$1.98 more per hour than her counterpart in Pittsfield. By year 10, she earns $3.10 more per hour."

Compounding the problem, she said, is that the six pay raise steps allowed in Pittsfield are capped after the 10th year of service, while the average years of service in the clerical unit is 17.5 years.

"The School Department is not alone in facing economic challenges associated with inflation and the increased costs of energy and goods," Cebula said. "From 2004 to 2014, inflation has driven the cost of living up an average of 2.38 percent per year. Over this 10-year period, the members of the clerical unit received an average increase of 1.09 percent per year."

Another member of the clerical unit, Lori Reuss, said in part that, "While responsibilities between a principal secretary and main office main office secretary may vary, all school secretaries are essential. We are the 'hub' of the building and the 'go-to' people, managing a wide range of responsibilities, a list too long to review at this time. I can assure you that anyone I have worked beside during my 27 years can attest to the fact that school secretaries from 'A to Z' manage the building."

Both women are members of the executive board of Local 1315.

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Cebula said after the committee meeting that the contracts expired on July 1, 2014, and thus far only the school bus drivers unit has settled with the district on a new contract. The other units are cafeteria workers, custodians and paraprofessionals.

She is the secretary of the Local 1315 executive board and Reuss is the treasurer.

Asked to comment after the meeting, school Superintendent Jason "Jake"McCandless said he couldn't because of the ongoing contract negotiations.

Information on the current employee contracts can be found on the Pittsfield schools website at www.pittsfield.net/district_info/human_resources/contracts.

Walter Armstrong, a field organizer with the union, also spoke before the committee on Wednesday. He said nonprofessional staff members across the state are being squeezed by higher costs while a higher percentage of wealth has flowed to the those at the highest income levels nationally.

The greatest positive impact on the local economy, he said, is in fact derived when average workers are paid at least a living wage, which he said has been determined to be $15 an hour or more.

"Not only are we employees, we are Pittsfield residents, taxpayers and voters, as well as the parents and grandparents of former and current students," Cebula said. "We are invested in our communities."

She added, "I ask that you support us in this endeavor by sending the message that we are indeed valued and deserve a fair, living wage."

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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