Workers from Easterseals in Rockford picketed in front of the organization’s former offices. Contract negotiations between the organization and the union are lagging over wage increases.
Brenda Schlueter is a paraprofessional with Easterseals, an organization that provides educational services to children and young adults with behavioral or developmental disabilities.
“What am I doing here? I want my company to pay us a fair wage so that we can attract more workers,” said Schuelter. "We are, we're really understaffed right now. We need more para[professionals]. More para will equal more safety for not only us but our students.”
Schlueter has worked with Easterseals nearly 9 years. She’s also one of the members of the bargaining committee represented by AFSCME Local 2515. She said that her job can get dangerous, and that sometimes comes from the students she's trying to help.
“Because they're upset what happened about yesterday, or they don't like how their clothes are fitting, or they don't think they're getting enough attention," said Schlueter. "So they act out violently and physically. That gets a little scary.”
According to Schlueter, she’s had 5 concussions on the job and is currently recovering from one. In a video shared on social media last weekend, staff shared pictures of themselves including injuries they’ve suffered on the job. The injuries include broken bones, knee and shoulder damage, and black eyes.
The current union contract, the first ever for Easterseals workers in Rockford, lasts one year and includes wage freezes. But Schlueter said that she and her coworkers haven’t seen a raise in two years. Easterseals did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Easterseals’ Greater Rockford President and CEO issued a statement saying that they “continue to bargain in good faith” and care deeply for the students at the center of the discussions.
Sara Dorner, representative for AFSCME Council 31, said that the union is prepared to use all of the legal channels available.
- Juanpablo Ramirez-Franco is a current corps member for Report for America, an initiative of the GroundTruth Project which is a national service program that places talented journalists in local newsrooms.