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Fredonia support staff calls for ‘living wage’

OBSERVER Photo by Braden Carmen Melanie Mann asked the Fredonia Board of Education to consider a pay increase for the district’s Salaried Support Staff Association members.

For the second time this school year, members of the Fredonia Central School District came before the Board of Education at a meeting to address contractual negotiations.

At the most recent Board of Education meeting, Melanie Mann spoke on behalf of the district’s Salaried Support Staff Association of the New York State United Teachers, which includes custodians and cleaners, as well as teacher aides and clerical staff. Mann asked the district to consider a pay increase for its members.

“We are here tonight requesting that the district reconsider opening negotiations with the (Salaried Support Staff Association) — the goal being that we can hire qualified people, retain them, and most importantly, pay our members a living wage,” Mann said.

Members showed solidarity by attending the meeting wearing matching blue shirts. Members of the Fredonia Teachers Association in attendance also wore association stickers to show support.

“These are the employees who worked through COVID — holding down the fort, so to speak — while uncertainty and fears ruled the day. In short, without us, this building doesn’t function efficiently or safely,” Mann said. “These are hardworking employees who love their job, give all they can to the district.”

Fredonia Superintendent Brad Zilliox thanked the Salaried Support Staff Association for attending the meeting. “We appreciate your comments and we appreciate the show of solidarity amongst our associations,” Zilliox said. “There is an ongoing dialogue right now. We are more than willing to participate in that conversation … and we look forward to continuing those conversations.”

Mann highlighted how many long-term staff members are earning less than $40,000 per year and that half of the union is within $3 an hour of minimum wage.

“With a retirement that is based on a percentage of what one makes, our current situation makes our future look bleak at best,” Mann said.

Mann cited a study by State United Teachers that found that Fredonia’s Salaried Support Staff Association members were paid in the bottom third of countywide union members working in similar titles and districts.

“We are now struggling to hire and retain good employees because of the low wages. We’ve lost a nurse to a neighboring district with a pay increase of $14,000 per year over our district. We’ve lost a teaching assistant after only a couple of weeks to the same position in another district nearby for an increase in starting wages of over $10 per hour. We can’t seem to hire and retain custodial staff, and because they move on to a higher paying job, that leaves the district paying overtime,” Mann said.

Zilliox said he is looking forward to another meeting to continue the conversation on the issue.

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