Board of Education meets with employee union
October 4, 2021
At their annual meeting with their Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) reflected on past policies and planned for the upcoming school year. The meeting took place over Zoom.
SEIU Local 500 is a union of more than 20,000 members based in the Maryland and Washington, D.C. area, advocating collectively for the benefits and improved working conditions of employees.
The agenda included financial advocacy, career development opportunities, communication between Union leaders and MCPS staff and the pandemic.
“Since March 2020, we have operated in a new world, necessitating new understandings, new ways of operating, and new thinking,” Brenda Wolff, President of the Board of Education said. “What has gotten us through though, is what has always gotten us through – and that is our partnership and joint commitment to working together to ensure we have the greatest school system for students, staff, and families.”
The hour-long meeting featured keynote speakers such as Pia Morrison, the President of SEIU Local 500 overviewing current progress, and other union members discussing issues they’ve encountered and potential solutions.
The progress report outlined achievements such as supplemental pay for on-site support staff and peer educators in the midst of virtual learning, increased member engagement through committees and online town halls overviewing health and safety, and increased membership with support staff professionals through the virtual environment.
In terms of financial advocacy, Ms. Morrison highlighted the importance of allocating resources according to the needs of all staff and students to ensure equitable access. “None of us ever expected to be in this public health space,” Ms. Morrison said, “And we’re looking forward to working creatively and collaboratively as we move out of it.”
Nathalie Bourddereau, the career pathways coordinator, spoke next on opening career opportunities for SEIU members in MCPS. She outlined two phases – advancing one on one resources for SEIU employees, increasing diversity and removing barriers, and expansion of pathways to sectors such as the trades and transportation.
“We all find ourselves in a unique time where we’re transitioning with the way work is performed… and I ask for your continued advocacy so we can continue to support employees so they stay engaged in their work, continue to build their capacity and enjoy working for MCPS,” Bourddereau said to the assembly.
Morrison then overviewed the recent level of communication between MCPS leadership and the union. She said that while recent student data has demonstrated an immense loss of learning, clear communication with MCPS staff members must also be prioritized.
Members of SEIU Local 500 then spoke on their experiences during virtual learning as MCPS members, as well as their requests moving forward, including operational planning, communication, and technological support.
“My fellow co-workers and I got up every morning to work in an environment that we knew was not safe…” Josean Acevedo-Soto, a security assistant at Westland Middle School, said. “We gave trust to MCPS to make sure our hard work and risk would be rewarded.”
Throughout the pandemic, front line workers like Acevedo-Soto assisted in providing meals, materials, and chromebooks to the community. There was some conflict earlier in the year regarding hazard pay and vaccination availability for school staff members. He expressed the need for meaningful communication between supervisors and staff.
Christina Brunner, Vice President of Food Services, outlined her experiences working to distribute food under MCPS’ curbside pickup program. She discussed the working conditions in terms of inclement weather, preparation needed to adjust to an outdoor workspace, and concern for safety when interacting with the community.
“I feel that that may have been something that was overlooked, because we don’t know these things until we experience it,” Brunner said. “All of these things were unforeseen, but now that we know, hopefully we can work together and come up with a greater plan for all of us when we’re outside working at the curbside.”
Oriole Saah, union treasurer, discussed the current state of technological support. She expressed that devices provided for staff weren’t functioning optimally, and in middle schools, many media staff members had to adopt the role of tech support.
“Ongoing communication with new leadership is important because maybe you didn’t feel like you were heard during the height of the crisis,” Karla Silvestre, Vice President of the Board of Education said. “I hope that we can keep the communication as we start a new unprecedented year.”