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Head Start Employees Want Springfield Urban League To Resume Contract Negotiations

Daisy Contreras
NPR Illinois
About a dozen employees with the Springfield Urban League's Head Start program staged a rally Wed. night asking for higher wages and other arrangements in their new labor contract.

Head Start workers at Springfield’s Urban League hope to resume contract negotiations with the non-profit organization that pays their wages. About a dozen workers rallied outside the Urban League’s administrative offices Wednesday afternoon. According to AFSCME union representatives -- talks have been stalled for about a month.

Employees say they’ve been negotiating since April. They want a 3-year renewal that includes higher salaries, snow days and paid sick leave for family care. Their current contract expired in July.

Erik Hostetter, with AFSCME Council 31, said the rally was meant to try and get a meeting with the Springfield Urban League Board, that was scheduled to meet earlier in the afternoon at the League’s administrative offices.

“We are not sure if they [the board] fully understand what is happening with the contract and what is happening with the workers that are working in their name,” Hostetter said.

Shai Miller, a family resource advocate with Head Start who joined the rally, said the program is sometimes understaffed.

“I have substituted with being a data clerk, a receptionist. I have substituted with being a teacher and a teacher’s assistant. Sometimes I’ve helped the site managers with their job. So, we do all of these different jobs and we’re not being paid for it,” she said. Miller said she doesn’t earn enough even though she has a bachelor’s degree and would like to see that change under a new contract.

Brittney Johnson a teacher at Head Start for the last 10 years, said she doesn’t recall difficulties in prior contract negotiations. “[Negotiations] are not going good. They [Urban League] cancel every time, or they have some excuse of why they have to leave early,” she said.

She said she would like for her employer to “treat us all fair.”

“Some of us are only making like $12, $13 an hour. And half of us have bachelor’s degrees and should be making more. Some people are fresh out of college, with student loans. And they want us to start at $13 an hour.”

Johnson said the Urban League has offered a one percent raise every year for the next three years, but she said that wouldn’t make a difference, especially while she’s raising two kids.

Hostetter said the union has filed two unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board because the employer has “not been bargaining in good faith.” He said he hopes the Springfield Urban League returns to the bargaining table soon.

“Head Start is an incredible program to this community, but if nobody can afford to work there and dedicate and build a career there, then who’s going to teach the kids?”

Head Start offers early education to about 600 kids in the Jacksonville and Springfield areas. The Springfield Urban League did not respond to a request for an interview.

Daisy reported on statehouse issues for our Illinois Issues project. She's a Public Affairs Reporting program graduate from the University of Illinois Springfield. She also graduated from the Illinois Institute of Technology, and has an associates degrees from Truman College. Daisy is from Chicago where she attended Lane Tech High School.
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