Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thanks EA Team!

Negotiating contract language (or defense of it), quite honestly, falls into the Twain-ish category of laws and sausages unfortunately. While you should not want to see it made, invariably someone looks at the ingredients list and gets grossed out. Terri, Rosie, and Katie deserve much thanks for diving in with Terri Ellisen and me and grinding away until every last item was defended or bargained to within an inch of its existence. It is easy to look at what a tentative agreement does not have, and that is natural, but I was fortunate enough to watch these women work with tenacity up close. This was a team of experienced negotiators and experienced employees. They had a broad understanding of the contract and they were fabulous storytellers when we needed to highlight the professional needs of EAs.

I certainly came into this team with my own agenda: St. Paul's living wage ordinance as an inspiration when talking about salaries and professional/leave language that more closely matched the teachers' contract. As a teacher, my stories of EA wages, benefits and working conditions were all from colleagues, but I was familiar enough with EAs to know that some EAs work for health insurance for their families alone, some are still working 2 or 3 jobs deep into their careers as EAs to make ends meet, and that there needs to be a shift in thinking about EA work as career work. I am committed to the belief that progressive contract negotiating can address all of this.

I see the colloquial notion of EAs in the past and the growing sophistication of EA work now. Many still think of EAs as some sort of farm team that is waiting to be called up to the teaching ranks with the right offer. We know that EAs love their careers and see themselves as professionals adding value to the district with exactly what they are doing. Unfortunately, many still want to think of EA work as a "mom job" for a little extra income, when the reality is that these are now careers that need and deserve living wages. Some still want to see EAs as expendable helpers when sheer determination, self-worth, No Child Left Behind, and a high value on education has brought us a corps of experts in the work EAs do. I want to thank the EA team for representing this evolution of EA work so well at the bargaining table. I am proud of the work they did and I am determined to do what I can to encourage this evolution at every opportunity in order to honor the work they did.

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