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A year after unionizing, Ledyard paraprofessionals now have their first contract

Ledyard — A year after voting to unionize, Ledyard paraprofessionals are now operating under their first collective bargaining agreement, which the union — Local 784 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 4 — and the Ledyard Board of Education approved in June.

The contract is in effect through June 30, 2024.

Tricia Santos, staff representative for AFSCME Council 4, said the paraprofessionals decided to unionize because they didn't qualify under the federal or state Family and Medical Leave Act, and there were concerns about paras having to resign if they needed to take extended sick leave.

"Qualification for FMLA is based on hours worked and it's not a number or an arbitrary decision by Ledyard Public Schools," Superintendent Jay Hartling said. The paraprofessionals generally work part time.

Santos described what the paras got in the contract as "our mini FMLA." The contract states that employees not eligible for leave under FMLA "may be granted up to 55 additional days of unpaid leave for a serious health condition of the employee or family member," and Santos said now they don't have to relinquish their position.

The contract also includes annual raises of 50 cents per hour. Paraprofessionals also are getting one paid holiday this year and two effective July 1, 2022.

"I'm excited about us getting our pay increase and two paid holidays," Liz Malone, a 15-year paraprofessional, said in an article from Council 4. "We've never had paid holidays before. Since this is our first contract, it is a stepping stone for more things to come."

Santos said that once the paraprofessionals got to the table, the negotiations were respectful and it was an open dialogue. She added that the superintendent and board wanted to hear from the paraprofessionals themselves.

"A lot of the paras that work at the school are parents, and we have children in the schools," said Local 784 President Kim Hope, who has a daughter going into 10th grade and twins going into seventh grade. She works part time as a special education paraprofessional and has worked in the district going on six years.

She said the union has more than 80 members, and Council 4 said members voted 52-1 in favor of the four-year agreement. She said most paraprofessionals are in general classrooms, and there are also library paraprofessionals.

"We're happy to continue to partner with our paraprofessionals, and they're a very important part of our school district," the superintendent said.

In Ledyard, secretaries, custodians and information technology personnel also are unionized with AFSCME Council 4, and the teachers' union is affiliated with the Connecticut Education Association.

In East Lyme, paraprofessionals voted to join AFSCME Council 4 in 2019, and they secured a three-year contract last year.

e.moser@theday.com

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