Detroit school support staff see raises, seniority bonuses in new contract

Pre-K students ride tricycles in the halls at Earhart Elementary-Middle school in southwest Detroit.
The Detroit school board approved an agreement with unionized support staff, such as school aides and food service attendants, that will provide workers with annual pay raises and bonuses and could help address staff shortages exacerbated by the pandemic. (Anthony Lanzilote for Chalkbeat)

The Detroit school board approved an agreement with unionized support staff that will provide workers with annual pay raises and bonuses and could help address staff shortages exacerbated by the pandemic.

The board approved the contract during its meeting Tuesday night. The Detroit Public Schools Community District settled its contract with the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees on Oct. 22. The two-year agreement provides hourly wage increases that range from $15 to $17.66 for union members, including trainable aides, custodians, bus attendants, and food service workers, as well as bonuses for members who have worked over 20 years. 

Before the agreement, hourly wages varied between support staff, with trainable aides receiving $12.78 per hour for the 2020-21 school year and food service attendants being paid $12.18 an hour, according to the district.

The pay increases arrive as the district struggles to recruit and retain employees in light of COVID-related staffing shortages. Since the beginning of the academic year, the district has hosted monthly hiring fairs for vacant positions among security guards, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, and bus attendants.

“I have no complaints about this agreement,” said Keith January, president of the union, also known as AFSCME Local 345. 

Given the windfall of federal COVID relief money arriving for the district, January said the agreed-upon wage increases and bonuses were more than fair for district employees, especially those with seniority.

“Most of my people have worked over 20 years, so it’s a good deal,” he said. 

January added that he’s seen veteran support staff retire because of the pandemic and health-related concerns about the return to in-person learning, although he didn’t specify how many had left the district.

The contract provides $2,000 bonuses to union members for the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years for pandemic recovery services, as well as $1,000 recurring payments for certain positions.

Support staff who have worked in the district for two decades or more will receive a one-time $1,000 longevity payment under the new contract. 

School aides with either an associate degree, 60 hours of college credit, or a teaching certification will also receive a $300 bonus for each year of the contract. 

These agreements come on the heels of a two-year contract with the Detroit Federation of Teachers approved in September. That contract included a 4% yearly increase for district teachers and a $2,000 hazard pay bonus, as well as bonuses for retirees returning to the district and long-term substitutes.

The district continues to negotiate with several more unions representing education workers.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the agreement brings support staff closer to earning a “livable wage.”

Unionized support staff covered by the deal are expected to see a raise in their biweekly paychecks within six weeks.

For January, the bonuses and renewal of longevity payments for district employees is a no-brainer.

“The way I see it, it was about time,” he said. “That’s all we ask for our people to be treated well, appreciated, and paid enough.”

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