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Brookside School Staff Join Our Union!

June 13, 2023

After years of effort, staff at the Brookside School join SEIU 200United.

“I love my job, I love my kids, I love my coworkers.  We’ve all gotten married together, we’ve all had kids together.  We’re a family.  I would trust my coworkers with my life.”

The Brookside School, where Kathy Hernandez has worked for 35 years, is a private special education school that’s part of the Arc of Mid-Hudson.  The school serves about 130 kids from across Ulster County.  The work is rewarding – teachers and staff get to see young kids make a lot of progress in a short amount of time, and get to share in parents’ excitement.

“Folks who stay do it for a long time.  We love what we do, but feel like we get walked all over.”

Workers at the school organized a union about a decade ago.  After a year without a contract, there was a re-vote, and just like that they lost their union by one vote.  Without a union contract, many issues went unresolved; it wasn’t just that the pay was low, but that when the state provided more funding, so little of it went to the teachers and staff who are the backbone of the school.  Despite the family atmosphere in the school, folks felt like black sheep within the larger organization.  Other departments within the Arc Mid-Hudson have been union for years, and though not without problems of their own, they have a seat at the table with upper management.

“I think I made them all nuts I was a nervous wreck before the vote, but they told me to knock it off because we were gonna win!”

About 30 workers signed union cards right away (the first day).  The organizing committee represented every department: teachers, therapists, TAs.  As soon as the agency was notified the workers were organizing, bosses – who before were rarely seen – came out to the school to give their typical anti-union speeches “there isn’t any money, the union can’t do anything for you, blah blah blah.”  But the workers were steadfast in their conviction.  Not only did they win their union by a four-to-one margin, but just about everyone showed up to vote (even those who weren’t on the schedule to work).

“I think that’s how we were feeling – lost.  But then we won and we were found again.”

Now that they’ve won their union election, Brookside School workers are joining hundreds of SEIU 200United members in other departments of the Arc of Mid-Hudson.  They’re keeping up the momentum, circulating bargaining surveys, and preparing to head the negotiations table for their first session on May 16th.  There’s a lot of talent in this school, and children who need them.

“It’s worth every effort.  We are the main provider of integrated services in this county.  If we closed, where would these kids go?  We are an important piece of this community, don’t screw around with us, and more importantly don’t screw around with the kids and the families.”