My name is Pam Young and I am a paraprofessional in the Newmarket School District and President of the Newmarket Support Staff, which includes paraprofessionals and tutors.
I became a paraprofessional in Newmarket eight years ago, so I could help children in my town and work hours that coincided with my own kids’ schedules. Working in the district, and being a parent of three children in the same district, gave me insight into what the support staff do every day for kids. This work is challenging and paraprofessionals and tutors work hard to ensure students are safe and successful in school. From the very beginning, I loved the work I was doing with kids in Newmarket and still do.
However, despite the love for the work and the children over the years, my experience with how paraprofessionals and tutors were treated was disheartening to say the least. There were great inconsistencies in how support staff was treated. We had no respect and were being grossly underpaid. We have support staff in the district that were working just to have insurance and never take any actual money home to their families. We also have support staff that still owe the district money for insurance after working all year without any take home pay. Every year we were losing significant numbers of paras and tutors because of these issues.
It was clear to me and my colleagues that we weren’t being treated fairly, that our benefits would continue to be cut and that our voices would still not be heard if things remained the same within our group. We knew something had to change to keep hard-working paras and tutors with our kids in Newmarket. We realized that the only way to ensure real lasting changes for us was to organize.
Initially many of our members were nervous about what organizing would mean for us in terms of changing things and how the district would respond to an organizing effort by our group. Our members were uneasy and not entirely aware of all the benefits of being organized. After some diligent work by our incredible UniServ Director Nicole Argraves, the unit was given the information they needed to feel confident moving forward with organizing.
We began our journey to organize in late 2018 and our unit which includes 47 support staff members became recognized by the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board on February 21, 2019.
After recognition with the labor board, we established officers and a bargaining team to negotiate our first contract. We had support during every step of this process from NH-NEA, UniServ Director, Nicole Argraves and UniServ Assistant Liz Schneible. The road to getting a first contract has been long and not without a lot of push back from the District. However, despite the rocky road, I am thrilled to be able to say that we now have a tentative agreement for our very first contract. This contract is a huge step for our unit in building better wages and stable benefits for our membership.
None of this would have been possible, if we had not organized. I am confident that now we will be heard and respected by the administration. It was worth all of the hours of work, frustration and research we put into this contract. We persevered and stayed strong and united to get this contract. It is not an easy process but as long as you have a great team surrounding and supporting you, it can be done!! Support Staff are proud to be Unionized and stand in solidarity in Newmarket!