ESPs: Organizing and Negotiating for Success

Strong, dedicated ESP bargaining teams are fighting hard for better salaries, benefits, and respect


Members register at the Calvert County Education Support Professional Development Day in November.

Activism like that of the custodians in Washington County, proves that orga­nizing — coming together for the common good — works. It’s the power of a strong voice and collective action that turned the heads of Washington County’s Board of Education. Now custodians are in the game — with a say in their own futures. of Education. Now custodians are in the game — with a say in their own futures.

ESP bargaining teams across the state, backed by the voice of their union colleagues, are making strides, winning better working conditions, benefits, respect, and pay increases. Let’s take a look at some big wins.

In Caroline County, members negotiated a contract that has improved working conditions and salaries of ESP with 1% pay increases annually through 2021 with a 5% increase in step values; a shift differential for custodial staff; and additional pay for special education paraprofessionals.

In Queen Anne’s County, the negotiations team bargained a 5% across-the-board step increase. And, after many veteran employees had been stuck for years with only a 1% increase at the highest step, the negotiations team restructured the schedule to provide those unit members with a 5% increase.

Bus drivers in Queen Anne’s also saw a big win in obtaining an eight-step salary schedule and annual hourly increases (it had been every two years) and the ability to swipe in at their work site upon arrival on delayed opening days, instead of having to wait until the delay ended to swipe in.

One-Fifth of Maryland School Staff Don’t Make Living Wages
MSEA is fighting to make sure ESPs make a living wage for their public

In Frederick County, special education instructional assistants must now receive formal training if they work with students who may require restraint or who have behavioral issues. The training must occur during the workday or employees must be compensated.

The negotiations team in Frederick County also won other important language, including requiring a $75 stipend for instructional assistants requested to cover classes for a half day or more, and annual tuition reimbursement of $1,500 ($3,000 with a special review) for job-related courses, continuing education, or education-related career changes in the county. For food service workers, an annual clothing allowance started in 2017 at $200 will increase to $300 by the 2019– 2020 school year. Topping off the Frederick wins is the opportunity to attend the MSEA and NEA conventions using paid union leave.