“Working for a small district has its pros and cons,” said Carl Williams, “but it’s mostly pros.”
Williams is president of AFT Local 4529, the Lawndale Federation of Classified Employees. The federation represents about 450 staff in the Lawndale district’s six elementary and two middle schools.
There’s a family feeling in Lawndale. Actually, it’s more than a feeling. Williams said it isn’t uncommon for parents and children, husbands and wives, or siblings to work for the district.
Williams needs look no farther than his household. Isaiah Williams was a toddler when he began tagging along with his father.
Sometimes I would go with my mom to pick him up at the end of his shift and he’d say, ‘Walk with me while I check that all the doors are locked.’ Now I see he was showing me what school is like and what work is like.
“Dad was a night custodian when I was young,” Isaiah Williams said. “Sometimes I would go with my mom to pick him up at the end of his shift and he’d say, ‘Walk with me while I check that all the doors are locked.’ Now I see he was showing me what school is like and what work is like.”
Conversations at the family dinner table often touched on contract negotiations, organizing drives, and other union campaigns. “When I started working for the district, I could see the fruits of his labor,” the younger Williams said.
“I’m very proud that my experience was so good that Isaiah wanted to be part of it,” the elder Williams said.
When he was 20, Isaiah began working with fourth- and fifth-graders in the Lawndale district’s after-school enrichment program Realizing Amazing Potential, or RAP. “I fell in love with the job. I fell in love with the children. Everyone has their niche, but I love these kids.”
When he wasn’t working at RAP, Isaiah was earning a certificate in labor studies at Los Angeles Trade Tech and studying at El Camino College. He is now studying full-time at Cal State Dominguez Hills.
“It has been a pleasure to serve as his father and as his union president,” the elder Williams said, adding with a chuckle, “I knew I could always count on his vote.”
RAP was also Kristia McTyer’s first job with the district, but her experience was in some ways the opposite of the Williamses.
McTyer began as a group leader with the program in 2009 and soon became an activities specialist. She enjoyed working with children so much that she urged someone she knew who was an expert in the field to apply for the job.
“I thought my mom would enjoy RAP. She’s really good at helping kids to grow and develop,” McTyer said.
Her mother, Desiree Groves, was thinking at the time about what she could do with her time when her youngest daughter left home for college.
Working with your mom is like having your best friend at work.
“I love to help enrich children’s lives and guide them,” Groves said. “I did something good with my own four children and I think it shows.”
Today, Groves is an activities specialist at Lucille Smith Elementary School, working with children from kindergarten to fifth grade to stage plays and organize other activities. McTyer now works as a health clerk at Jane Addams Middle School, where her 13-year-old son is in eighth grade.
Groves and McTyer are also AFT Local 4529 activists. Mother is union secretary and daughter sits on the social and calendar committees.
“We enjoy our union,” Groves said. “We’re small, but mighty.”
McTyer said she turns to her mother whenever she has a question about work or a new employee wants to join the union.
“Working with your mom,” she said, “is like having your best friend at work.”
— By Steve Weingarten, CFT Reporter