EAST CHICAGO | A party spirit filled Club Ki-Yowga on Friday as more than 100 East Chicago public school paraprofessionals and their well-wishers celebrated new union membership and the draft of their first contract.
The East Chicago School Board recently recognized Service Employees International Union Local 73 as the sole bargaining agent for the paraprofessionals, said Jim Balanoff, attorney for the local that represents service employees in Northwest Indiana and Illinois.
Paraprofessionals include classroom aides, one-to-one aides for special education students, student attendance assistants, library aides and most parent liaison personnel. SEIU Local 73 would represent about 150 School City of East Chicago employees in those positions, Balanoff said.
“We’ve been struggling a long time. We had to keep standing strong,” said Juanita Guillen, a paraprofessional at McKinley Elementary School who helped organize union membership.
"We’ve been trying for five years to get benefits. Finally, we’re going to have a contract and benefits," Guillen said.
The contract still must be ratified by the School Board and the union membership, Balanoff said.
Among the highlights of the contract are paid sick days, paid bereavement leave for a death in the immediate family, paid personal business days and seniority to determine promotions and layoffs. The contract would be effective July 1 through Dec. 31, 2014.
Union members will vote from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Pastrick Branch Library conference room, 1008 W. Chicago Ave. The school board meets Thursday.
School Board Vice President Terence Hill said the city’s first elected school board plans to work with all groups to better the East Chicago public schools.
“We’ll be working with administration, teachers, unions, everyone because it’s all about the students,” Hill said at the event.
East Chicago teachers have been part of the American Federation of Teachers union for decades, said John Zarlengo, a school social worker and president of AFT Local 511.
“It’s about time the paraprofessionals were part of a union,” said Zarlengo, who attended the celebration.