Behavior Intervention Specialists (BIS) in North Saint Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale Behavior Independent School District 622 play a vital and often underappreciated role in our schools to shape young minds. These dedicated professionals worked tirelessly during the pandemic to support students facing behavior challenges, and in July, they joined together for dignity and respect by unionizing with SEIU Local 284.
Ker Lor, a BIS of three years at Weaver Elementary, witnessed her work's firsthand transformative impact on student lives. Yet, she could not help but notice the lack of recognition and resources for her colleagues and herself received from the school administration. For example, the pay structure was obscure and unfair. Some BIS staff were making significantly more than others, and no pathway existed for individuals to learn how to climb to that level. In another instance, a colleague calculated their yearly wage increase against inflation and realized it was not keeping pace, resulting in a pay cut. With issues like this arising, the whispers of change began to circulate about the BIS of ISD 622
Unions, including SEIU Local 284, already represented multiple units in ISD 622, and it was not hard to see the benefits. These units had come out ahead on guaranteed wage increases and improved overall work quality through collective bargaining. Moreover, by contract, these workers had a seat at the table with management. Kor Ler and fellow BIS staff knew they needed that seat: "If we are not what is at the table, we are what is for dinner."
A few staff members began searching for what union would represent them and landed on SEIU Local 284. The union had a reputation for championing the rights of education support professionals fighting for fair compensation and improving working conditions. In February, Ker and her colleagues reached out to set up a meeting; the spark of hope had been ignited.
The initial meeting went well, and with resolute steps, they began their campaign to join SEIU Local 284. Their journey was marked by building lists, calling members, discussing strategy, marching on the boss, and, most importantly, signing cards. The union acted as a guiding force, but the bulk of the work was done by members like Ker, "Every night we made phone calls to members telling them we needed to do this to get the respect and pay we deserve."
As the process reached its culmination in July, a palpable sense of accomplishment filled the air. On July 14, the staff voted, and with an overwhelming majority, the BIS of North Saint Paul/ Maplewood / Oakdale joined SEIU Local 284. Ker was ecstatic about the victory, claiming, "This was such a long time coming. We are so happy with this outcome and glad to be moving forward with SEIU."
SEIU Local 284 is proud of these workers for their fight for better pay and conditions and is grateful to represent them. This action builds a collective effort that benefits their lives and creates a more supportive and nurturing environment for students with behavior challenges.
The next step for the members and their new union is to begin bargaining and win their first contract.