Vacaville Unified School District classified workers rally to demand fair wages and support from administration in the face of severe understaffing and safety concerns
On Thursday, November 2nd, over 60 Vacaville Unified School District (VUSD) classified staff attended the Board of Trustees meeting to voice their ongoing concerns and frustrations with the district.
VUSD members have been at the bargaining table since May 2023 for a wage reopener for the 2023-24 school year. The parties have met for negotiations eight times so far. Despite record increases in education spending by the state of California and an unprecedented COLA increase to the Local Control Funding Formula, the district has not met the modest salary demands of SEIU 1021 union members.
While the district’s enrollment and attendance numbers are higher than initially projected, bringing in an unanticipated additional $10 million this year, their counteroffer is still far below what would help bring wages up to compare with neighboring districts and help mitigate the increasing attrition VUSD is seeing.
“We understand there’s a staffing shortage right now. It just feels like kids have been left behind, and administrators expect us to run everything,” said SEIU 1021 VUSD Chapter President Barbra Hamilton, an administrative secretary with the district for over 20 years. “It’s not safe for anyone. We need more support than ever before, and we aren’t getting it.”
While classified workers like nutrition workers, paraeducators, custodians, secretaries, and student monitors keep schools running smoothly, the district’s lack of movement in negotiations has left essential workers feeling unheard and unappreciated.
“We are hemorrhaging staff. People can’t afford to live here anymore. They are moving out of Vacaville or getting jobs in other districts that pay more,” said union steward Shelly Martin, a paraeducator with the district for 17 years.
Speakers at the rally described a lack of fair compensation and unreasonable work conditions, which they say are unsafe for students, teachers, and staff and a large part of the reason for the severe staffing crisis.
“We feel ignored, dismissed, abandoned, and not valued. We are so understaffed, and we have begged for help, and administrators are not responding,” said Martin.
This wage inequity is affecting all classified positions, from those who start the job and leave soon after for another higher-paying job elsewhere to others who won’t even bother applying.
“We care about our jobs. We care about our students. It’s not just about the paycheck. We build relationships with our students, and we want to have a clean school site for them, but we have to be able to survive, too. I’ve had people interested in applying, and when they see how much the District pays, they don’t even apply,” said Bargaining Team member Karen Hamrick, a secondary day lead custodian who has been with the district for almost 17 years.
The bargaining team heads back into bargaining on Monday, November 13, hoping for better results. If they still need to, they plan to continue attending board meetings and raising awareness.