Treatment of Classified Workers During the Ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic
The below statement is a collection of union member testimonies about the treatment of SAISD classified workers—including custodians, porters, food service workers, bus drivers, and maintenance workers—since the start of the school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic on March 16, 2020.
This statement was mailed to classified members on Friday, June 19 and was submitted to the SAISD Board of Trustees and emailed to all members on Monday, June 22.
Since the date of the SAISD school closures on March 16, 2020, many of us classified workers have had to report to our worksites. We are the front-line workers. We disinfect the schools, we make sure students don’t go hungry, we transport goods and people, we keep the lights on. We are the workers that ensure the infrastructure of our schools is cared for, maintained, and cleaned. There are no schools without our work and our care.
However, since the start of the school closures, our work has often gone underappreciated and under-supported. Routinely, we have not had access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), many of us receiving a single mask for weeks on end and having to supply our own masks and gloves. Many of us have had to work without AC in already sweltering temperatures. Communication from the District on safety protocol has been inconsistent, minimal, and opaque. Some posters and a few emails are not a substitute for strict safety protocols and ongoing training that comes from a comprehensive pandemic response plan. Don’t tell us to put out a fire and then not give us a fire hose.
Are classified workers expendable in the eyes of the SAISD administration?
Extra compensation during this time, called “premium pay” rather than hazard pay, is only $3 per hour while actively working on campuses. It was passed on April 4, 2020 and was not retroactive for the weeks that many of us had worked prior to April 4. Additionally, when this premium pay passed, most workers’ hours were cut from full-time or three days a week to one day a week. In reality, most people were only receiving an additional $30 to $100 per paycheck once taxes were taken out.
Base compensation for classified employees is far from a living wage and prior to the pandemic, many of us depended on working 50 to 60 hours a week to make ends meet. Now, the hours of many many classified workers are either cut as they actively work with “premium pay” or reduced to the minimum hours guaranteed if they are put on reserve without “premium pay”. We are still struggling to make ends meet, now more than ever.
Does an additional $30 to $100 per paycheck seem like meaningful compensation for hazardous work at a time that could cost us our health and lives or the health and lives of our families?
The response from the SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, Board of Trustees, and administration is at odds with the severity of the crisis we face. While the campuses remain closed to students until at least August, our same worksites were reopened on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 and on that same day the “premium pay” ended. Not only were all classified staff required to physically report, many teachers have been on campus the week of May 18 and May 25 to clean out classrooms—a completely non-essential activity.
Does having cleaned out classrooms matter more than the lives of classified workers?
The pandemic is likely going to get worse as Texas continues to reopen. Since the reopening of restaurants, malls, movie theaters and retail stores on May 1, 2020, positive cases and deaths from COVID-19 have steadily increased and will likely continue to do so as more people are allowed in these and similar spaces. Forcing people back to work in the middle of a pandemic means unnecessarily risking their lives and the lives of their families. The SAISD administration appears to be taking direction from Texas leadership, rather than putting the well-being and safety of workers, students, and communities before all else.
How can the SAISD administration justify our sacrifices when they’ve not had to sacrifice their pay and safety?
We demand a livable wage for all classified workers at all times. We demand meaningful compensation for the hazardous work we do and retroactive hazard pay for the work we’ve already done. We demand fair scheduling. We demand job security and a fair contract. We demand additional leave time. We demand safe working conditions. We demand district-wide access to high-quality PPE, strict safety protocols and consistent training, and open communication between SAISD administration and workers. Most of all, we demand that no one other than the utmost essential people on campuses right now with a clear, honest definition of what "essential" means under these conditions and who that applies to. SAISD campuses should be closed for for as long as the threat of the pandemic looms over us.
The pandemic is almost certainly far from over. We are scared, we are frustrated, we are stressed, and we are being treated as if we’re disposable. We deserve safe and dignified working conditions. We deserve better.
Our question to Superintendent Pedro Martinez, the Board of Trustees, and the rest of the SAISD administration: When will you start doing right by your workers?