COVID didn’t create the national staffing crisis we face, but the pandemic has stretched classified and certificated members so thin that some schools have been forced to shut their doors.
AFT has stepped up to the challenge and created an Education Staffing Crisis Task Force co-chaired by Carl Williams, head of the CFT Council of Classified Employees and an AFT Vice President, and Michael Mulgrew, leader of AFT’s largest local union, New York City’s United Federation of Teachers.
“The impact has been widespread,” Williams said, “from the smallest towns to the largest urban centers.”
“People say, ‘We’re not in it for the incomes, we’re in it for the outcomes,’ but we need to be paid.” — Carl Williams, Co-Chair, AFT Education Staffing Crisis Task Force
The task force met in Washington, D.C. in early March to review preliminary research, including an AFT phone survey of members. Williams has also been on the road, visiting local unions to hear directly from members.
“Nobody knows a problem like the people on the ground,” he said.
The task force is digging into four areas identified by the AFT Program and Policy Councils: Recruitment, working conditions, support for new teachers and staff, and compensation.
“People say, ‘We’re not in it for the incomes, we’re in it for the outcomes,’ but we need to be paid,” said Williams, a senior custodian in Lawndale.
Staff shortages have a ripple effect on students and other school employees.
“If custodians don’t have any subs, that means double work for us,” Williams said, “and if a custodian doesn’t clean a room, it’s double dirty the next day.”
The task force will meet again in May to compile information for the AFT Convention in July.
Closer to home, CFT President Jeff Freitas has tasked Williams and fellow CFT Vice Presidents Rico Tamayo and Steve McDougall to focus on why current school employees and young people entering the workforce are losing interest in education as a career. A long-time lack of respect for public education, a lack of fair pay, and a lack of healthy and safe working conditions — especially during the pandemic — are obvious factors.
The CFT group is also looking at steps to turn that trend around, including those proposed in a recent resolution subsidized housing and health benefits, minimum pay of $20 per hour for classified employees, a minimum base salary for teachers, and limiting the number of part-time jobs.
“A living wage and one job should be enough,” Williams said.
- By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter