About four years ago in an unexpected and unprecedented move, the Memphis city school board surrendered their charter, leaving the Shelby County school district with the responsibility for managing the school system.
The dissolution of the Memphis City School board rendered all of the union agreements (including the one with SEIU) invalid. Almost overnight, thousands of public employees working in a large urban school system found themselves without the rights and benefits they had carefully negotiated for years. Local 205 led the effort to partner up with the other unions in the Memphis schools and present a unified front to the new Shelby County Unified school district, which had little experience or interest in working with labor unions.
After a tense six-month effort of discussions and lobbying, the labor coalition finally received recognition. Since then, SEIU has been able to get a grievance procedure put into policy for support employees. Last year, the union got the cafeteria managers paid for two inclement weather days, which led to a new inclement weather policy that Local 205 helped craft with administrators. “It’s been a tough road, but we stuck together and were able to not only keep our union, but even make a few improvements,” said Donna Watson, a food service supervisor who serves on the Local’s bargaining committee.