Union workers at Action for a Better Community’s ABC Head Start held a rally Feb. 12, in response to stalled contract negotiations with the organization.
“What do we want?” “A contract.” “When do we want it?” “Now!” Shouted demonstrators outside ABC headquarters at 550 E. Main St., Rochester.
According to a Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 200United press release, officials said employees have been negotiating a wage increase with ABC for nine months, but the non-profit organization has been unresponsive to their requests.
“The employer has responded with nothing,” said Jake Allen, SEIU rally organizer. “The only thing they offered was a Cost of Living Adjustment, also known as COLA, if the government forces them to.”
Allen said SEIU employees initially proposed a three-year contract, with wages that would increase, minimally, by one percent the first year; 1.5 percent the second year; then two percent the third year.
“That’s a very small amount of money,” he stated. “I mean, we’re talking pennies with a one percent wage increase.”
In addition, Allen said, although ABC is an organization designed to provide opportunity for low-income individuals; the agency needs to adequately provide for its own employees, first.
In fact, he said the wages ABC pays are so low, many of the organization’s employees currently qualify for social services.
“We think that if ABC is serious about eradicating poverty, they should start with their own employees,” Allen stated.
In response to Allen’s statements, and the rally, ABC president and CEO James Norman said the organization has no plans to negotiate with union workers anywhere other than at the bargaining table.
In addition, Norman said ABC Head Start employees are already paid a living wage, earning, on average, up to $15.34 per hour, or $32,000 per year.
Norman released the following statement regarding the matter:
“For the public’s background and information, ABC Head Start wages are higher than comparable organizations nationally, and other educational non-profit organizations in Western New York. Members of the ABC Head Start bargaining unit are paid at least the city of Rochester living wage, plus benefits. On average, ABC Head Start employees are paid at least $15.34 per hour. On an annualized full-time equivalent basis, this average equates to nearly $32,000.”
Subsequently, Allen said the wages are incorrect.
“The only way he could be getting those numbers is if he’s averaging in management pay,” Allen stated. “I’ve looked at the numbers personally. Nearly 50 percent of our employees make below $24,450 per year, which is below the poverty rate for a family of four in Rochester. I don’t know how he could be saying that, when the majority of our members qualify for public services. That’s factually untrue.”
“A lot of our families don’t have cars, many are on Medicaid,” said ABC family developer Tamiko Pollocks. “Many of our employees, including myself, are on food stamps.”
In addition, Pollocks said students have suffered from what she referred to as management’s “bullying atmosphere” toward workers.
“Many employees are afraid to speak up, and it affects their ability to advocate for their students,” she stated.
SEIU Local 200 currently represents nearly 170 employees at ABC, including food service workers, family developers, teachers and childcare assistants, and ABC’s Head Start program currently provides direct services to 1,435 children.