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Federation of Head Start Employees forced to take pay reductions to care for their children

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Despite work being available remotely, caregivers and high-risk individuals are not being afforded flexibility as per governor’s mandate

March 26, 2021


Sophia Rychener, Federation of Head Start Employees President, 360-790-6948 (c)

Irene Morrison, Union Organizing Representative, 206-495-8589 (c)

Olympia, WA – The members of Federation of Head Start Employees, Local 6153 of AFT, is calling upon ESD 113’s administration to honor Head Start’s mission of bringing working families out of poverty by keeping their own employees out of poverty. The district has told employees that they must return to in-person work, regardless of employees’ caregiving needs or COVID-19 risk status. Even though there is still plenty of remote work to be done because they are returning in a hybrid model, the district is insisting all work must be done at school sites. Working parents who cannot return full-time because their own children are hybrid or fully remote must use leave without pay (LWOP) once their PTO runs out; those at high risk would have to apply for unemployment. The district has relented under union pressure to allow one day per week remote work, but this would still leave working parents and high-risk individuals facing pay cuts of up to $2,000 by one estimate.

Jennifer Russell, a teacher in the local, said “I need to have the flexibility to work from home since my 10-year-old is only in a hybrid model two days a week. It is not an option for childcare or leaving him by himself. This allows me to go to my work two days a week, 4.75 hours a day but having to take leave the rest of the time. With the hours left in our school year, the district’s new plan means I would be on LWOP for roughly 100 hours for the year. My family depends on my pay to buy food and pay for gas to get my husband back and forth to work.”

The potential loss of pay exacerbates existing problems. Head Start teachers are consistently not paid a living wage. The average salary for a Head Start instructor in Washington is approximately $31,000 per year; many qualify for state and federal assistance programs. Being forced to reduce their salary further by using LWOP even when hybrid work is available highlights the gender disparities in the pandemic, which has seen women pushed out of the workforce in record numbers due to caregiving responsibilities. Working parents should not have to choose between a job and their children.

The need for flexibility is temporary, as more childcare and in-person schooling options become available. The local is eager to return to in-person education once they know their children will be supported too. “One of my children is on an IEP and both are experiencing social emotional withdrawal and depression. ESD 113 is definitely not in this together with teachers and children,” said Amanda Lucus, another teacher in the district.

The local has called on the district to provide flexible scheduling as the governor’s mandate suggests be done when work is available remotely.

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