by Walter and Rosemary Brasch
Art Welch, the in-school suspension supervisor at the Columbia-Montour Area Vocational Technical School (Vo-Tech) in Bloomsburg, Pa., earns $8 an hour, only 75 cents above minimum wage. In the six years he has been at Vo-Tech, he has never had a raise.
Mary Avery, who has worked in the cafeteria for 28 years, earns $9 an hour; some years, she only received a nickel an hour increase.
Wendy Zajac, who also works in the cafeteria, has been employed at Vo-Tech seven years; she is the only one of a bargaining unit of 25 workers who received a raise in four years. She now earns $7.25 an hour. The school's management had no choice except to raise her salary so it would be in compliance with the federally-mandated minimum wage.
Welch, Avery, Zajac, and 22 others, went on strike in March after more than three years of patiently waiting for the school's Joint Operating Committee (JOC) to ratify a contract. The support staff had voted in October 2006 to become a part of the Pennsylvania State Education Association (PSEA). Since then, there have been no raises and no contract for the school's lowest-paid workers, many of whom are forced to work second jobs; three are receiving public assistance, their wages so low they fall below the federal poverty line. More than half of the members of the bargaining unit have annual wages below $22,050, the federal poverty line for a family of four; about one-third have salaries barely above $14,570, the federal poverty line for two persons.
In an industry in which degrees matter, and which usually result in higher wages, the support staff, about half of whom have at least an associate's degree, are not compensated for their post-high school education.
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