MONTICELLO — Citing the need for a voice on the job and fair compensation, workers at Easter Seals NY’s Project Excel Preschool in Sullivan County recently voted overwhelmingly to form a union in their workplace with CSEA.
Workers are now gearing up to negotiate their first contract, which they hope will bring stability to a workplace mired with changing job requirements, pay disparities and high worker turnover.
“We’re really looking forward to the consistency and stability of having a contract, having things in writing so they can’t change day by day,” said Christine Olsen-Gray, a Project Excel teacher and organizing committee member.
The decision to organize with CSEA came after years of broken promises from Easter Seals NY management. Five years ago, a new management team traveled to Monticello to meet with workers, promising a fresh start and speaking about merit raises and salary increases, among other things.
“They took us out to a lovely dinner and made all these promises,” said Olsen-Gray. “We’ve been patient for five years and nothing.”
Instead, workloads have steadily increased and workers learned that online job postings for Project Excel were offering more money than they were currently making.
Olsen-Gray asked co-workers if they were interested in her contacting CSEA to learn more about organizing. Their response was overwhelmingly positive. The process also brought unexpected benefits.
“It was literally the best team building ever,” said Olsen-Gray. “Once we started unionizing, we realized a lot of us have the same issues in common. It brought us together very quickly.”
Easter Seals NY retained a New York City-based law firm specializing in union avoidance, after which management began holding mandatory workplace meetings and sending mailings to workers’ homes to persuade workers to vote against organizing.
Meanwhile, workers received public support in their organizing drive from Project Excel parents, local elected officials, nearby CSEA bargaining units and friends from the local labor community.
“It’s been such a pleasure helping the workers at Project Excel take the first step toward having a seat at the table and a voice on the job,” said CSEA Statewide Organizer Beth Hall. “Instead of intimidating workers from organizing, the pricy union busting firm Easter Seals NY hired and the tactics they used strengthened workers’ determination to unionize.”
“We welcome Project Excel workers to CSEA and look forward to standing with them as they work to secure their first contract,” said Southern Region President Anthony Adamo. “The work they do as early childhood educators is vital to children in the greater Monticello community. It’s time these workers are treated with the respect they deserve.”
— Jessica Ladlee
Above, Project Excel Preschool workers celebrate forming a union with CSEA. Joining them is CSEA Southern Region President Anthony Adamo, far right.