Head Start Workers
Win Fairness on the Job
ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt.
Over a year after they first organized, Head Start workers in
three counties in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont have won a contract that
ensures fairness on the job, a process for dealing with overwork, and
increases in paid leave.
Scattered over three counties and ten worksites, home
visitors, teachers, food service managers and janitors who work for Northeast
Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA) joined together because they believe in
helping the families they work with, but don’t believe that help should come
at the expense of their own families. Prior to joining UE, workers at NEKCA
Head Start were routinely asked to work unpaid hours in order to complete
their job duties. Workers who refused were harassed and even fired.
Although the NEKCA workers won their union election in July
1999, delays and unfair labor practices by management meant that the contract
was not finished until August this year. By mobilizing union and community
members, the union was finally able to win a fair contract. Members in the
shop wrote letters and made phone calls to the executive director and the
agency’s board of directors. The Vermont Workers Center and the teachers’
union in the Northeast Kingdom (Vt-NEA) mobilized many community members in
support of the new UE members.
The contract includes the basic union protections of a fair
grievance procedure with binding arbitration, just cause for discipline and
discharge, and protections for employees with regard to what management can
place in their files. NEKCA Head Start workers also achieved the following
An increase in the number of hours food service workers and
janitors are paid per week (without an increase in job duties); restoration of
a paid holiday for all employees; a new personal day for home visitors, who
previously had none, as well as prorated paid holidays, vacation, sick days
and bereavement leave for janitors. Also, automatic five days of bereavement
leave for close family members.
Employees are no longer required to work split shifts. There
are now checks on the addition of new job requirements and a process for
reducing workload the ability to negotiate as equals over the distribution of
federal funds into employees’ wages. (Prior to the union,
management-dominated committees made these decisions.)
NEKCA Head Start workers are members of amalgamated UE Local
The negotiating committee consisted of Lesa Cathcart, Diane
Essaff, Kathy Karlen, Marie Norton-McNeal and Wendy
Wright and was assisted by UE Field Org. Heather Riemer and Intl.
Rep. Kimberly Lawson.
UE News - 11/00