ESP Summer Organizers Hit the Streets

Our Union, Our Strength, Our Summer

MSEA’s ESP Organizers are using the ESP Bill of Rights to connect with potential union members. Recruiting new members to join the campaign for a living wage, fairness, and respect for all support staff are: front row, Bobby Lane (Baltimore County); Vanessa Graham (Howard County); middle row, JoAnn Fritz (Kent County); Kelly Esslinger (Frederick County); Kyvette Ruffin (St. Mary’s County); Sharon Gross Howard (Wicomico County); back row, Rachel Hautmann (Calvert County); Craig Mitchell (Wicomico County); Sheilah Hubbard (Baltimore County); Devon Chapman (Baltimore County); and Priscilla Bradley (Calvert County).

The buzz has been building now for over a year: Public education support staff deserve a living wage, fairness, and support no matter what they do or where they work. Union members across the state are leading the campaign with MSEA’s ESP Bill of Rights—a clear testimony to the issues ESP members say are their top priorities. Read the ESP Bill of Rights here.

The ESP Bill of Rights has gotten lots of attention. Since the kick-off at MSEA’s Convention last October, and thanks to outreach by ESP Organizing Committee members and in-person and virtual Bill of Rights informational sessions, all of MSEA’s ESP locals and many individual worksites have signed on to the campaign. In May, local presidents and bargaining teams gathered to study how to organize members around specific ESP Bill of Rights items and fight for improvements in bargaining. That buy-in means they’ll be using the ESP Bill of Rights as the foundation for their own bargaining platforms, relationship building, and membership recruitment.

Find the living wage in your county. Enter your info below.

(180 regular school days, PD days, paid vacation days and paid holidays should be included in this number)

Use this living wage calculator to find out if  your wages meet the living wage standard in your county. Learn more about MSEA’s fight for an ESP Bill of Rights here.

What’s next?

There’s strength in numbers. That’s why this summer, 13 ESP member-organizers hired by MSEA are using the ESP Bill of Rights as their calling card in a door-to-door membership drive. They’ll be fanning out across the state visiting public school support staff who have not joined their local union to build the ranks of members. More members means more pressure at the bargaining table and at board of education and county council meetings.

“Working full-time for a government entity is certainly reason enough to earn a living wage for the area in which one lives,” says summer organizer Kelly Esslinger, a school-based tech specialist in Frederick County. “My first year as an ESP, I worked my full-time job and a part-time job three nights a week plus weekends. It was exhausting! In my second year, I gave up my second job but scraped the bottom of my bank account every two weeks. It just doesn’t make sense.” As her school’s union rep, ESP government relations committee chair, and a 2023 NEA Convention delegate, Kelly has a great read on how the union works for both her fellow staff and her community and plans to share that in her canvassing this summer.

Read how ESP Summer Organizer JoAnn Fritz became a union activist here.

“Being an active member is living the change I want to see in the world,” says organizer Priscilla Bradley, a cafeteria manager in Calvert County. “Seeing the ESP Bill of Rights created from listening sessions that I took part in really opened my eyes to the struggles support staff are having not only in Calvert County, but throughout Maryland. If we have a united front, we are stronger together. That is something I want to be part of. Working this summer job gives me the opportunity to expand on something I’m very passionate about.”

Tech specialist Esslinger was a classroom teacher at the start of her education career. Being an active union member and being an advocate is a no-brainer for her. “In 2021, I was so happy to join again as an ESP! We have elected some great pro-public-education officials in Frederick County and I’m proud to have supported that effort alongside such great, like-minded individuals! Of late, the union has been my happy place, knowing that there are people as energized as I am to collectively make the world a better place!”

“Making connections is the most important work we can do as members of our union. Each summer organizer on the team brings something special to the job,” says MSEA President Cheryl Bost. “They are meeting fellow support staff door-to-door for real, relatable, one-on-one conversations. We want them to know that we are committed to the rights of every support staff and their access to a living wage, safe working conditions, and fairness. And equally important, we want to learn from them.”

“Working with amazing ESPs and teachers continues to show me how much each individual role matters in supporting every student, and I’m heartbroken that the budgets and pay scales never add up to how valuable we are,” says Esslinger. “I’m fighting for the ESP Bill of Rights because I believe one job should be enough!”

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