Success Story: Advocating With a School Union

Pattie Bellini, SLP
Central Falls, Rhode Island

What did you do?

I began some self-advocacy with my union to secure a caseload reduction in the contract for our school system. The speech-language pathologists in my school system had large caseloads and a lot of paperwork. So, we approached our teachers union, which we all belonged to, and we asked them to help us. One of the things that we asked them to do was to try to negotiate a reduction in caseload size. We gave them several reasons why we thought this was appropriate, and we worked together to change the contract.

What were your greatest challenges?

The obstacles that we faced were ones that we put there ourselves. We thought that our union wouldn't work for us because only six of the 200 union members were speech-language pathologists. We thought that the union wouldn't work for us because it was a long-standing problem, which we assumed they had tried to fix in the past, but weren't able to. We also thought that they knew about the problem, but they really didn't. When we actually approached them, they were very willing to work for us.

What was the outcome of your effort?

In our school system, when the speech-language pathologists first went to our union, they were very willing to work with us and to listen to what we had to say. We went into our first contract negotiations. Unfortunately, nothing changed, but at least we got people to listen to us. Our administrators were hearing that our caseloads were large, and our union officials understood what we needed to do.

We re-proposed our request for caseload reduction during the next round of negotiations and were able to get a line in our contract that stated that caseload size for speech-language pathologists would be determined by the Department of Education. That was a good thing, because at least we were being recognized in the contract. But, unfortunately, nothing really happened because of that.

During the next round of contract negotiations, we asked our union officials once again to assist us. Our third attempt to negotiate a reduced caseload size was ultimately successful.

What advice would you give to others?

I think it's important for people to realize that it does take small steps in order to achieve the change that you need.

If there was one last bit of advice that I might give someone who is interested in making a change is something that my mom always told my brothers and me as we were growing up: "If you want something done, then you need to do it yourself." If you sit and wait for someone else to make a change for you, it won't necessarily happen.

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