By Dusty Christensen
SPRINGFIELD — Standing in the median of the busy State Street on Monday, bullhorn in hand, Jahara Gabriel looked ready to fight for what she and her fellow daycare teachers say they deserve: better pay, more time off and a more comfortable dress code.
“It’s time to use our outside voices,” Gabriel’s shirt read.
And that’s what she and 15 of her coworkers are doing. On Monday, the educators — who are unionized with the United Auto Workers Local 2322 — went on strike after they alleged that their employer, the anti-poverty organization Springfield Partners for Community Action, committed unfair labor practices during the bargaining of a new contract. The group marched in front of the Springfield Partners for Community Action building, cars honking as they passed the lively picket line. It was an experience that was completely new for Gabriel and others.
“I’m the first person I’ve known who has gone out on strike,” Gabriel told The Shoestring
In a statement sent to The Shoestring on Monday, Springfield Partners for Community Action Executive Director Paul Bailey said that the organization is negotiating “in good faith” and that the union’s wage demands are “above and beyond that which is operationally reasonable and feasible at this time.” He said the two sides also remain apart on the issues of dress code and paid time off.
But the workers say that many of them don’t make a living wage at the organization’s Early Learning Center, where they said the starting wage is $16.50 an hour. Around 100 children between six months and 5 years old attend the daycare. Those interviewed Monday also alleged that the organization’s lawyer has demeaned and “bullied” them during negotiations.
The workers are now in the third day of their strike. It is the second time that members of the Holyoke-based UAW Local 2322 have gone on strike recently; last month, the staff of Goddard College in Vermont ended their nearly month-long strike after they said they fought off a management rights clause the college wanted and won pay raises.
The Shoestring sat down with Haysha Morales, one of the Springfield Partners for Community Action teachers, during a quick break from picketing on Monday. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity:
Dusty Christensen: What brought you to this moment to be out on strike today?
Haysha Morales: It’s a bittersweet thing, because it is sad that we’re not with our kids in our classroom. But it feels good, because it’s showing them that we want our respect. Because our bargaining has been very disrespectful. We’ve been getting treated horribly. Talked to like they don’t care that we’re part of their organization … We do a lot. We’re a big program for this organization.
Everything that we have actually asked for so far has got declined. When it comes to uniforms, we’re asking for leggings. They’re saying no. We’ve got told that it’s because of the way we look in them. Why are we being looked at in a sexual way? We’re just trying to be comfortable. We’re working with kids eight hours a day, 40 hours a week.
Another thing is [paid time off]. We’re asking for more personal days, because this is a hard career. We deal with kids all day long and we just wanted a little bit more time to ourselves …
And then the wages. We’re just asking for something more livable. What they first had offered us wasn’t something livable … We all have families. Besides teachers, we are moms, and aunts, and cousins, and sisters, and daughters … A lot of us live paycheck to paycheck and it sucks. I feel like they don’t see that besides teachers, we are humans outside of this.
Dusty: It’s not too often that people go on strike in western Mass, and I’m sure people are going to be paying attention. What does it mean, especially if you are able to win?
Haysha: It shows that us teachers need to stand up for each other more and be there for one another. Because in this career as teachers, we get overlooked.
People don’t see the hard work and dedication that we put in for these kids. We’re basically, you know, creating the new generation. We are with these kids 40 hours a week. We watch them grow, we’re teaching them and we’re there taking care of them while their parents are working.
I hope that this just shows other daycares that it’s very important to stick up for yourself no matter what, even if it takes a strike — which it’s sad that it had to get to that. Do it so people can see that you need to get what you want and what you deserve.
Dusty: What has it felt like to be on the picket line?
Haysha: It feels very great. The support that we’ve had is amazing. We’ve had even parents come out and support us. We had some of our kids walk the picket line with us. It’s been very great. I hope it shows others that this is worth it.
Dusty Christensen is an independent investigative reporter based in western Massachusetts. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dustyc123. Photo: Dusty Christensen.
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