Bedford Educational Personnel Association Uses Personal Connection to Push Toward Goal to Double Membership

“We’re not alone in our struggles and our successes.”

That’s the message Suzanne Johnson is bringing to colleagues in her new position as President of Bedford Educational Personnel Association (BEPA). She knows there is strength in numbers, which is why she and her new board leadership team set an ambitious goal of doubling membership by the next negotiation. One year in, they have already increased membership by 67%.

“The fact that we’ve made such leaps and bounds this first year is just setting the ball rolling for future years,” Johnson said.

Johnson, who has worked in the District for six years, has made it a priority to visit all six schools in the Bedford School District to have open meetings in the Fall and Spring and send monthly email updates to members. She also meets regularly with administration to share issues and concerns from ESPs. For the first time ever, BEPA’s president also delivered a speech at the annual district staff meeting. 

BEPA’s collective bargaining agreement covers paraprofessionals, food service, secretaries and clerks, tutors, and library staff. When Johnson took the leadership reins, there were 21 members – out of 242 potential members. 

For support staff, BEPA Secretary Lauren Friedman acknowledges asking lower-paid staff, especially part-time workers, to take more money out of smaller paychecks to pay member dues can be a deterrent. That’s why they have focused on educating members and non-members alike about the contract and benefits to membership.

“These jobs are complicated,” said Friedman. “We work with challenging kids and knowing that you have support from within the union but also NEA-New Hampshire…the support of a community is really valuable.”

BEPA Vice President Susan Bishop, who has been a paraprofessional in the district off and on since 2002, emphasized the strong role the union played for ESPs in the last round of contract negotiations.

“I’ve been around a long time. And the raises we got were phenomenal, and that’s because of our union,” Bishop said.

In working toward their membership recruitment goal, BEPA’s executive leadership team has taken advantage of support offered by NEA-New Hampshire, including counsel from their UniServ Director as well as attending the Summer Leadership Conference and regional meetings. BEPA also applied for, and received, a microgrant from NEA-NH to support their member recruitment efforts. That allowed the union to provide food as an incentive for attendance at their annual orientation meeting.

Additionally, for the first time in fourteen years, BEPA was represented at the NEA-NH Delegate Assembly. Friedman observed that many of the unions that attend the Delegate Assembly are teachers unions, and having more representation from support staff unions at statewide events is important because their member needs are different.

“It’s just been about showing up,” concluded Friedman.