Carl Williams’ mother used to tell him, “Don’t tell me you love me — show me you love me.”

That’s what Williams, President of the Council of Classified Employees, hopes people will do on May 21, the Day of Action to support of all classified professional on the steps of the capital. 

Williams has heard from people how they appreciate the work of bus drivers, cafeteria workers, para educators, lab techs and office workers. And on that day, he wants people to do more than tell him — he wants them to show up to celebrate and support classified professionals who keep schools running.

Delegates at the CFT Convention last year voted overwhelming for a resolution to have this day of action. “We’ve been working really hard since then, and we plan to have speakers and to share lunch,” William said.

“We’ll have an atmosphere of solidarity, and unity for those folks who are over often overlooked, underpaid, understaffed and overworked.”

Michelle Schudel, a paraeducator with United Educators of San Francisco, looks forward to honoring classified workers, but she also hopes the day will clarify what it is classified workers do. Schudel, for example, gives one-on-one assistance in the classroom to students with special needs. She helps them focus and breaks down the lesson plan with them, and she says it’s a huge help, for the teachers, as well as the students, and legislators need to know that when they make decisions.

“It’s important for us to let them know what we do and why our position is so important. You can’t really reach students’ capacity for learning without paraeducators in the classroom,” she said. “Also, there’s our security staff and our family liaisons and so many positions that really assist in the overall education and community of our students.”

Schudel found out about the Day of Action from Teanna Tillery, her colleague and the Vice President of Paraeducators at UESF. After the latest contract negotiations, none of the classified professionals in the local make less than $30 an hour.

Tillery says with the raise, people tell her they aren’t as worried about which bill to pay and they’re not considering a commute somewhere else for better wages. Tillery looks forward to being together with her fellow para educators in Sacramento. She calls the day historic and says it gives people a chance to celebrate out of the silos of their school districts. What happened in their bargaining process confirmed her belief in strength in numbers, and Tillery says she learned, as Schubel said, how important it is to let people know what classified workers do — as well as what they need.

“Our certificated brothers and sisters don’t always know what our struggles are. I know in our unit, they weren’t aware that some of our lowest paid members are getting paid $18 an hour, and that we don’t have a pension,” Tillery said. “When they found that out, they were blown away, and that’s when the pivot happened in our union. I think being on a state platform to articulate what the needs are for the classified, there’s going to be a huge result from it because I don’t think people understand what we endure day in and day out.”

Angela Matos, a van driver and paraeducator with AFT Local 1481 in Daly City, hopes for the same thing. “I think it’s important because usually schools and districts focus on teachers and admin, and we get overlooked a lot,” Matos said about the Day of Action. 

“Our day-to-day jobs and what we do, the schools wouldn’t be able to function if they didn’t have us.”

Local 1481 represents both classified and certificated worker. The president, Monica Casey is enthusiastic about the Day of Action. She remembers taking a bus up to Sacramento for a Red for Ed rally a few years ago.

“It was wonderful to go together and a wonderful day of action and everyone being there together and organizing was unifying,” she said. “I hope that union siblings from other sectors come to support us.”

Jefferson has built housing for its education workers and Casey says she is constantly explaining that it’s not only for teachers.

“I’ve always been like, ‘There are other people who work here.’ That kind of reminder to recognize the classified members has always been important to me,” she said. “The housing is 40 % classified and 60 % certified, just like our school district. We have a lot of people who are friends with each other. We all see the benefit of working together and raising everybody up. That’s why it’s really important for me to have a day for classified. There’s no class without classified — I think that’s the greatest motto there is.”

Perry Zhang, who works with the Los Angeles Community College District as a financial aid technician hopes to see legislators and administrators on May 21. For one thing, he wants to remind them of what happened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were in person assisting students,” Zhang said.

“Sometimes we feel we’re invisible. We want everyone to know that classified professionals matter.”

That’s what Zhang wants the message to be on May 21 — that their work should be respected.

“Administrators think we’re just greeting students and accepting paperwork,” he said. “It’s not true. For me as a financial aid technician, I deal with federal regulations.”

With her work, she assists students and helps creates community among them, says Diana Mueller, a classified representative on the UESF executive board who works at Burton High School as a paraeducator.

Mueller sees the day at the Capitol as one of the many things they can do to affect education policy. She says UESF encouraged classified workers to be part of the Teacher Leader program to get involved in policy. She appreciates that CFT President Jeff Freitas suggested calling it Educator Leaders since it’s open to all members. Williams also mentioned that he’s grateful for Freitas’ backing.

“We’re very lucky in California to have a statewide president who looks at all of his members equally,” Williams said. “He supports us 100%.”