By Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, WEAC Vice President
Crystal Ealy, President of The Milwaukee Educational Assistants Association (MEAA), cited the culture of organizing and in building strong relationships across the district as part of their success as a local. “I’ve been in the Milwaukee Public School District for 26 years, working in various roles from cheerleading coach and art instructor in the after-school recreation program to library assistant and special education assistant, to working with students for the spelling bee to parent coordinator.” Crystal has done it all, and she is so proud of what educators and her union have accomplished together.
The MEAA has had great success with their organizing campaigns over the past few years. For example, according to Crystal, “two years ago, we did a ‘Walk A Day in an EA’s shoes’ campaign to encourage school board members to see our jobs. As a follow-up, a couple of years later, we did a ‘Raise Up EA’s’ campaign to improve base wages. Last year, we began a “One Job Should Be Enough’ campaign to move salaries beyond just a cost-of-living increase and to re-instate salary schedules. Then, through meet and confer with administration, we were able to re-instate salary schedules for all our support staff as of July 1, 2019, which was implemented on our first paycheck in September of 2019. This was a huge victory for our members, who were the first group to lose their salary schedule after Act 10. When I am out talking with members and potential members, I share this with them.”
Part of the MEAA’s success also stems from having a council that meets monthly and having a full-time release President. The Milwaukee Center for Teaching, Learning and Public Education has been beneficial in providing in-house professional development opportunities free for members, like their “Courageous Conversations About Race Book Study” and “Educators Credit Union-Money Management Including Reducing Debt” training. Crystal pointed out that many of her EA members take advantage of these opportunities to grow personally and professionally.
“Our local again had a strong showing with the union’s recertification election at 63.73%, which is up from about 61% last year. And, we are steadily growing in membership with 56% last year, and now up to 58%. We keep working on it, and have been steadily growing every year,” Crystal shared. She went on to say, “Because I have release time, that helps me to focus on this work. I spend time in school buildings talking with educators who have questions and needs. I address issues as I come across them, and that has made a tremendous difference for our local.”
This committed group of EA’s isn’t finished yet. Michelle Mackey, Vice President of the MEAA, shared, “Our local has several goals like finding building leadership in all of our school buildings, which can be a challenge for us because, as support staff, many of our members are working second and third jobs in order to make ends meet. We continue to work to recruit strong EA leaders in each building and use phone calls and texts to stay connected with them. We are also pushing for a 40-hour work week for every support staff, with our ‘One Job Should Be Enough’ campaign.”
Michelle recognized their challenges and their advocacy saying, “Our ESP members have so much on their plates. They serve on committees, they coach, they have second and third jobs, and they still take on these extra roles because they look out for kids and their needs. We will never stop fighting for our students buying pencils, coats, and backpacks for our students because they are all our kids.”
Crystal pointed out, “As support staff, we have unique opportunities to build relationships with our students and their families. Our work and our roles allow us to have a different kind of influence with our students. That is tremendously powerful for student success when we all work together.”
Finally, Crystal encouraged WEAC members to share their local victories and to brag about what we have accomplished together. In member recruitment, she says, “We are your union. We are the MEAA, and when we fight together, together we all win. You should join with us.”
WEAC says thank you to the Milwaukee Educational Assistants Association for their tireless advocacy on behalf of their students, their community, and our union.
Read all of Peggy’s ‘Spotlight On Locals’ columns at weac.org/Spotlight.