NORTH ATTLEBORO — Local union leaders are urging residents to pressure school board members to increase the wages for paraprofessionals and cafeteria workers.

In a statement released last week and posted on the North Attleboro Federation of Teachers Facebook page, the union officials say paraprofessionals, also known as teachers’ aides, and food service workers are being treated unfairly due to staff shortages and what it calls their “chronic low wages.”

The statement was signed by Nichole Reminder, president of the North Attleboro Federation of Teachers, Ken Childers, head of the paraprofessional chapter, and Barbara McAuliffe, chair of the cafeteria workers.

The paraprofessionals and cafeteria workers have been in negotiations with the school committee for several months to secure new contracts. The aides’ contract expired in 2020, according to the school committee website. The cafeteria staff are still working under an agreement that ran through 2017 but was later extended.

The statement complained that the school committee has not raised the wages paid to the groups to the state minimum.

“While that is legal, as municipal and school employees are exempt from the law, is that just?” it asks.

Current minimum hourly wage in Massachusetts for most private employees is $13.50, due to be raised to $15 over the next two years.

Negotiations with the unions — and discussions of strategy — are usually conducted in closed-door sessions. Ethan Hamilton, chairman of the school committee, declined to discuss those talks when contacted on Monday. He said current pay for the workers is “close to” the state minimum.

Asked if the union statement would have an impact on future talks, Hamilton said, “We will continue to negotiate in good faith, and we hope they will do the same.”

At least one member of the school board has come out publicly in favor of the union position, however.

“Our food service workers and paraprofessionals are very much the backbone of our school community,” member John Costello said in a post to his Facebook account Saturday. “They deserve a fair wage. It may be legal as a municipality to pay below state minimum wage — but it is neither right nor just.”

The union also cites the coronavirus pandemic as one of the pressures on workers, noting that “the fear of being exposed to the virus grows,” particularly at …….


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