Shelby County Schools

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Solidarity & Persistence Pays Off for Workers in Shelby County Schools!

SEIU members celebrate the passage of a resolution by the Shelby County School Board recognizing their union rights.

SEIU members celebrate the passage of a resolution by the Shelby County School Board recognizing their union rights.

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.

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Shelby County School Board Votes to Recognize SEIU, Other Unions

SEIU members celebrate the passage of a resolution by the Shelby County School Board recognizing their union rights.

SEIU members celebrate the passage of a resolution by the Shelby County School Board recognizing their union rights.

By a vote of 16-4, the Shelby County school board voted on Tuesday to support a resolution that recognizes a half-dozen unions – including SEIU Local 205 – as the representatives of approximately 18,000 public employees working for the recently formed Shelby County Unified School District.

“We are so glad to continue to have representation by our Union,” said Brenda Shields, a cafeteria manager who has been working in Memphis schools for 28 years. “There are a lot of issues facing school employees and it is important that employees are able to get these problems addressed.”

“If we are not given the training and the tools we need to do our jobs and our concerns aren’t taken seriously by administration, then we can’t provide the best educational environment that our children deserve”, said Clannon Williams, a plant engineer. “We are glad to continue to have a voice on the job.”

“This is a step in the right direction for Shelby County’s public employees and we look forward to working in good faith with school administrators to resolve employee issues,” said Doug Collier, president of SEIU Local 205, which represents cafeteria managers and plant managers in the district. “I want to offer my sincere thanks to the Baptist Ministerial Association for their advocacy as well our union brothers and sisters from AFSCME Local 1733, UAW Local 3036, the Memphis Shelby County Education Association, and the Craft Employees Association – all of whom demonstrated amazing solidarity throughout this long struggle.”

The problems for school employees began nearly two years ago when the Memphis City School Board surrendered its charter to operate the city’s school system, eventually forcing the city schools and Shelby County Schools to merge into a new Unified School District. While the city schools had a long history of working with organized labor, the county schools did not, causing much controversy and confusion for employees.

The resolution was offered by Dr. Jeff Warren and also drew the support of Chris Caldwell, Snowden Carruthers, Joe Clayton, Diane George, Tomeka Hart, Martavius Jones, Teresa Jones, Sara Lewis, Oscar Love, Patrice Robinson, Dr. Kenneth Whalum Jr., Dr. Freda Williams, Mike Wissman, Kevin Woods and chairman Billy Orgel. Mary Anne Gibson, Betty Mallott, David Picker and David Reaves voted no.

Read the full story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal (subscription required)

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