A Long Hard Road for Osceola ESPs Ends in Victory

It was a close vote, but the committed local leaders and advocates fought an entrenched district leadership and prevailed. The FEA leadership and local leadership are committed to building strong organization for ESP’s in Osceola County.

There will be a lot of excitement and anticipation when school opens in Osceola County this month. For the first time, more than 1,200 secretaries, clericals and paraprofessionals will be able to begin enjoying the benefits of union representation. These ESPs have joined forces with teacher members of the Osceola Classroom Teachers Association (OCTA) to form the new Osceola County Education Association which will now represent almost 4,300 school employees.

 

Osceola support professionals started their unwavering push for a union back in February 2009, meeting every week for a year and a half. They spent a lot of time developing strategies and surveying potential members to gain the willingness of the potential ESP members. FEA/NEA/AFT staff members joined the hard-fought battle standing alongside ESPs who were willing to work 7 days a week placing phone calls and knocking on the doors of school employee homes late into the evening. Long hours, long weekends and an undefeatable determination for victory were the common thread that kept these advocates focused month after month during this long organizing campaign. And it was worth it.

 

“We salute Osceola and OCTA President Kathy Donato and her leadership team for pushing for the rights of these previously unrepresented employees. These leaders will now embark on the journey to build a strong, vibrant organization. These future members and ultimately its leaders will serve the students of Osceola County with dignity and respect that union membership provides,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “It was a close vote, but the committed local leaders and advocates fought an entrenched district leadership and prevailed. The FEA leadership and local leadership are committed to building strong organization for ESP’s in Osceola County.”

 

Osceola Classroom Teachers Association ESPAt the AFT PSRP (Paraprofessionals and School-Related Personnel) conference this past spring, support staff from around the nation met some of the brave Osceola staff who, at that point, had been dug in for a year, fighting for the right to organize. "My dad was a custodian," said Donato, "and it was always my dream that the education staff professionals would be joining us."

 

How tough was this election? During the mail-in ballot count that started June 24, the school administration delayed for more than two weeks the counting of the last 68 ballots from prekindergarten and extended-day workers. The superintendent had repeatedly tried to block these workers from the unit and had conducted an active anti-union campaign that included other delaying tactics, captive audience meetings and negative leafleting. Nevertheless, employees pulled off a tremendous "get-out-the-vote" effort, culminating with the vote in favor of the union.

 

AFT PSRPs covered a huge banner with praise and support for the Osceola workers, and AFT secretary-treasurer Antonia Cortese noted that members needed no prompting to jump to their feet and cheer for them. "We are a union, all of us, brothers and sisters," she said, "and as long as we stay together, we'll be strong."

 

They're ready to start building membership and to reach that first contract.

 

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