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School Employees In Kokomo Fight To Unionize, Citing Essential Work And Understaffing

Yellow school bus

The latest effort for Kokomo school employees to unionize was spurred by bus drivers and aides who are worried about changes to their pay and understaffing. (Jeanie Lindsay/IPB News)

School employees in Kokomo are fighting to organize a union after the school corporation voted not to recognize it earlier this year. Workers involved say they've endured just as many challenges as teachers during the pandemic, but still aren't being valued.

The Kokomo School Corporation's board voted not to recognize the union representing transportation, maintenance and custodial staff in March. The district said in a statement that members based the decision on legal advice, but won't offer additional comment. 

Bus driver Heather Jackson spoke at a board meeting after the vote, calling on members for more transparency and to recognize the union. She said many questions to the district about workers' concerns have gone unanswered, and now leaders won't share more details about why they won't recognize workers' latest effort to unionize.

"I don't understand the whole legal thing, because teachers have a union, so why can't we have a union?" Jackson said.

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Richard Santos has worked in the district as a custodian for more than 30 years. He said communication with leadership is worse than ever, despite he and other custodial and maintenance staff being referred to as "essential" for schools to reopen during the pandemic.

"Over the years I kept on telling myself it's 'gonna get better, it's gonna get better – the next superintendent that comes in is gonna change things.' But you know what? It never did," he said.

Santos said he's recently heard reports from colleagues that a school supervisor is warning employees that signing a union card could result in them being fired.

Jackson and Santos both said they and other workers aren't discouraged though – they plan to keep showing up at board meetings, and hope for better communication soon as the district transitions to a new superintendent.

The school board promoted the assistant superintendent to lead the corporation late last month, as current Superintendent Jeff Hauswald prepares to begin a new contract with the Monroe County School Corporation July 1.

Contact reporter Jeanie at jlindsa@iu.edu or follow her on Twitter at @jeanjeanielindz.

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