We, the rank-and-file members of UE 150 Workers Union at UNC, stand in solidarity with the NCAE, the Durham Association of Educators, teachers, custodial and cafeteria staff, and all other public school workers participating in the March for Students and Rally for Respect on May 16th in Raleigh.
Since 2009, the North Carolina Legislature has made severe cuts to public school funding, hurting some of our state’s most dedicated workers and some of its most vulnerable students. Despite recent increases to education spending, state funding levels are still 7.9% below 2008 levels, when adjusting for inflation. Following the Great Recession, per student spending is down 12.2%, with the heaviest burden falling on some of our poorest counties, who are unable to make up for these shortfalls with local dollars. The long term outlook is even worse: since 1970, public education’s share of the state’s general fund has decreased 13.5%.
News of recent pay increases for teachers does not tell the whole story. North Carolina teachers still make $9,000 dollars less than the national average for teacher pay. Discussions surrounding the modest salary increase have failed to mention the increasing costs of public school employment. In recent years public school employees have faced increasing insurance premiums, out of pocket costs for school supplies, and cost of living expenses, making it more difficult to obtain any measure financial security. New teachers have lost important workplace protections against arbitrary termination as well as the ability to earn more by obtaining advanced degrees and additional certification. As a result, many public school employees have left for states that pay higher wages and provided better benefits. Those who have stayed must often take a second or third job to make ends meet.
As graduate students and university staff, we’re intimately aware of the inherent value of education. It is clear to us that in light of attacks on education, the North Carolina Legislature does not respect us, so we stand with our brothers and sisters in public education on May 16th and demand:
- Increase per-student spending
- Increase pay for educators with a plan to get to the national average and immediate across the board pay raises for all state employees. This can be paid for by repealing an upcoming corporate tax break.
- End performance-based pay, reinstate a pay scale that values veteran educators, and restore pay incentives for advanced degrees.
- Freeze any increases in health care costs for public employees, which requires no additional resources from the state.
- Accept federal funds to expand Medicaid, giving affordable health care to the one-quarter of North Carolina students who live in poverty.
- Stop the attacks on public schools by placing a moratorium on new charter schools and private school vouchers.
We must also point out that educational support staff and other public sector workers face a similar plight. They are underpaid, overworked, operating in unsafe conditions, and lack any control over improving their workplaces. The people who clean our schools, feed our children, transport them to school safely, ensure our water is clean, remove our trash, pave our roads, and care for our sick deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. With this in mind, we also demand:
- The repeal of NC General Statute 95-98, which denies public employees the right to collectively bargain for higher wages, better and safer workplaces, and stronger protections against discrimination.
- That all state employees receive no less than $16 an hour.
- That all state employees receive a 6% cost of living adjustment to make up for years of stagnant wages.
- That all veteran state employees receive salary adjustments to ensure that their wages are at least equal to those of their newly hired colleagues.
The current conditions facing North Carolina public school workers is unconscionable. It is unacceptable that any worker, especially ones who devote their lives to our state’s children, find themselves in such an abhorrent situation. As we have seen in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona and elsewhere, it is only through collective action that we can bring about changes for all workers. We’re proud to stand with North Carolina teachers and students on May 16th.