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In Danvers, Mass., instructional assistants win a fair contract after a campaign for dignity

Congratulations to the AFSCME bargaining team for negotiating a strong contract for school instructional assistants in Danvers, Massachusetts. Photo credit: AFSCME Council 93
In Danvers, Mass., instructional assistants win a fair contract after a campaign for dignity
By Andi Mullin, AFSCME Council 93, and Raju Chebium, AFSCME International ·

DANVERS, Mass. – School instructional assistants (IAs) who work for Danvers Public Schools have overwhelmingly ratified a hard-won contract that does more than provide fair wages — it also restores their dignity.

The IAs, who belong to AFSCME Local 1098 (Council 93), ratified the contract on June 13 after a monthslong “Campaign for Dignity” to demand a fair deal from the Danvers School Committee.

Before they began their first-ever contract campaign back in January, the IAs did a wage study of what “aides” — their title prior to this contract — were paid in surrounding communities.

That inquiry revealed that in an already low-paying profession, the annual pay for Danvers IAs was at the very bottom — $19,000 at Step 1 and $26,000 a year at the top step. That meant Danvers aides were getting paid 19% to 22% less per hour than their counterparts in nearby school districts, according to Shannon Chan, the chapter chair who served as the spokesperson for Local 1098’s negotiating team.

Led by Council 93’s Staff Representative Michael Fiorentino, the union’s negotiating team sought a 50% across-the-board pay raise for all IAs. At a subsequent negotiating session — attended by some 50 Local 1098 “silent representatives” clad in AFSCME green — management countered with a 2.5% increase.

“We were so disgusted that we told them that was insulting and we walked out, we left. So that was a pivotal moment,” Chan said.

Fiorentino said the walkout underscored the strength of the union and showed that members were determined to secure a living wage this time around. Chan said the prior contract offered cumulative pay raises of just 6% over three years. The 115-member bargaining unit was not about to accept sub-par wages like that for the July 2024-June 2027 contract.

Local 1098 distributed stickers that read “Living Wages for Danvers Aides,” which were worn by bargaining unit members and teachers at Danvers’ seven public schools throughout the contract campaign. The Danvers Teachers Association proved to be a great ally, submitting a petition with the signatures of hundreds of teachers at the beginning of the campaign in support of Local 1098’s wage proposal. 

At a Danvers School Committee meeting, AFSCME members and some teachers showed up in force to support Chan as she described how poorly IAs were paid. About 50 supporters attended the meeting, wearing AFSCME T-shirts, carrying signs that said “2.5% Doesn’t Make a Dent,” and speaking during the public comment period.

But the most effective tactic by far was having “silent representatives” present at the various bargaining sessions. The union threw open the negotiation process to all bargaining unit members. As a result, during negotiations, the bargaining committee was surrounded by 25-45 silent members, all in AFSCME gear, all closely watching the proceedings and participating in the caucuses. Having silent representatives served to engage and organize the membership and proved effective.

“We basically just kept the pressure on and escalated when needed,” said Fiorentino, a former teacher’s aide. “Using a contract to launch a campaign connects people. Having silent reps is a good tactic. It creates a strong feedback loop between members and the bargaining committee.”

Chan, who credited Fiorentino for providing expert guidance throughout the negotiations, said the contract campaign has been transformative for a union that wasn’t as well organized in the past.

“We just learned that we are a lot stronger together than we thought,” Chan said. “It was a lot of work, but we had to do the work to make the change. And nobody else was going to do it for us. If we had sat back, we would’ve ended up with 2% or 2.5% again, no doubt.”

The result was a new contract that included:

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