‘Fighting for a fair contract,’ Great Falls Public Schools Office Staff Head to Mediation
(GREAT FALLS, MONT.) – The Great Falls Association of Office Personnel, a union of school office staff affiliated with the Montana Federation of Public Employees, has requested the assistance of a state mediator in ongoing contract negotiations. Sixty-four office staff members in Great Falls Public Schools have worked without a contract since their previous agreement expired June 30th.
Requesting a state mediator from the Department of Labor and Industry comes in response to a breakdown in contract negotiations between the school district and office staff. Offers from the district–most recently an additional $0.64 an hour–fail to honor the integral role office staff play supporting and protecting students, families, and faculty throughout the district. This most recent offer also fails to recognize and repair a decades-old pay scale that has been made inadequate by the increased cost-of-living in Great Falls.
“Currently, when we start working for the district, we make between $13.59 and $16.73,” said Association of Office Personnel President Daneen Pate. “After 25 years of service to this district, the most we can earn is between $16.42 and $19.53 an hour. These wages are no longer livable, they don’t keep pace with other school districts, and they’re not fair market value. We’re fighting for a fair contract because we love the students in our care and the district shouldn’t force us to choose between them and putting food on our families’ tables.”
Office staff are often the faces of their schools. They’re the first to greet students, caring for them when they’re sick or acting out. Parents and families interact with office staff daily, relying on them for timely updates and assistance. Office staff also help with scheduling, record keeping, finances, school activities, and attendance. Despite fulfilling their important roles with commitment and skill, the school district’s most recent offer would mean that, on average, office staff would make only $30,261 per contract year. Their counterparts across the state average $41,744 annually. The average Great Falls administrator makes $107,564 per year.
An average entry level administrative assistant at Malmstrom’s Delta Solutions makes between $44,000 and $56,000. New administrative assistants at Montana Highway Patrol and Montana’s average fast-food worker earn over $42,000 in a 2,080-hour year of work.
In the lead up to mediation on October 26th, the Association of Office Personnel have shown solidarity by wearing buttons reading ‘What Would You Do Without Us? Worth more than 64¢’ and black shirts every Wednesday. Members, with the support of other district faculty and staff, will continue these activities, and, if necessary, ramp them up as they continue to bargain for a livable wage.
“We are hopeful the mediation results in a fair agreement, but if it doesn’t then our office staff members are ready to stand up for themselves, their families, and Great Falls’ students,” said MFPE President Amanda Curtis. “Our entire statewide union will have their backs.”