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A Living Wage Battle

Nine Washington locals say now’s the time.

By Mary Ellen Flannery

Is the bad economy a good excuse for your miserable pay? Not in Washington State, it’s not.

If education support professionals (ESPs) don’t push now for decent pay, “when will we?” demands Debby Chandler, a Spokane secretary and chair of the state Association’s living wage committee. With folks on food stamps and welfare, accepting charity to pay utility bills, and working two or three jobs to pay the rent, it’s no time to stop—recession or not.

That’s why nine “lighthouse” locals—Bainbridge Island, Clarkston, Federal Way, Lake Washington, Northshore, Puyallup, Republic, Shoreline, and Yakima—are persevering with energetic, unified campaigns. With financial and technical support from NEA and the Washington Education Association (WEA), they’re lighting the way to fair pay, using strategies other local Associations can adopt and modify.

It starts with making a step-by-step plan, like Yakima’s 33-point route to success. And it continues with highly visible rallies, leaflet drops, school board protests, chants, songs, pins, T-shirts, balloons, and candy. (Give me that 100 Grand!) Then it gets even more creative: Lake Washington ESPs  toted around a coffin to protest the ridiculous “death lane” provisions that require a colleague to die or quit before somebody else can get a raise.

It means capturing headlines and putting yourself in the public eye, even if you’re sharing the most painful details of your life. How about Yakima paraeducator Heidi Mann, who testified to the school board: “I’m forced to get welfare just to feed my family… I feel shame when I stand in a line over three blocks long for energy assistance funds… I am tired of filling out free lunch forms.”

It means using all the tools of the 21st-century—video, blogs, social media—to stay connected. It also means rallying the support of other colleagues and community members—you’re not in this alone. Teachers and ESPs from across the country have your back.

Most of all, it means not accepting excuses.

Check out some of Washington's living wage videos from Yakima, Bainbridge Island, and Clarkston:

An Education Value, Bainbridge Island, WA

Home Alone, Clarkston, WA

The Yakima Story, Yakima, WA

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