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Champaign Unit 4 school bus monitors, cafeteria workers now make at least $15 an hour

Champaign Educational Support Professionals president Jamie Sussen: This is a big win.

CHAMPAIGN — Custodians, assistant teachers and other support staff in the Champaign Unit 4 School District are all making at least $15 an hour, as of July 1.

Both the school board and members of the Champaign Educational Support Professionals union approved a new, four-year contract last week.

“Knowing what we proposed in the very beginning, and where we wound up, this is easily the biggest contract that’s ever happened for CESP. And that’s a huge win for all of us,” says union president Jamie Sussen.

Despite being voted into the president’s seat just this spring, Sussen has been involved in contract negotiations throughout the year.

Under the contract, the school district’s lowest paid, unionized workers – like first-year bus monitors – get a raise, from under $13 an hour to $15.50.

Unit 4 Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Ken Kleber says the district raised wages to keep up with other employers in the region.

“The world is just more competitive. Quite frankly, some of our positions were sort of out of balance with market conditions,” Kleber says.

He says the raises also help the district pre-empt state minimum wage laws.

By state law, the district would have to pay at least $13 an hour, starting in January 2023. The $15 minimum wage goes into effect in 2025.

Jefferson Middle School head custodian James Montague voted for the new union contract in the hopes that higher wages will attract more coworkers. Emily Hays/Illinois Public Media

CESP members approved the contract in a 100-to-20 vote. The Unit 4 Board of Education then approved it unanimously.

Sussen says there are about 700 support professionals and about half are union members. He says he was happy that 120 people turned out to vote, especially compared to sparse attendance at union meetings.

James Montague is the head custodian at Jefferson Middle School. He voted for the contract in the hopes that it will help fill vacancies in his department.

“You look all across town in Champaign. You have Wendy’s, McDonald’s, you have other places saying they pay up to $17 an hour. I think this is the school district trying to get good quality people,” Montague says.

A custodian with no experience makes $16.50 an hour, according to the new wage scale. The most veteran custodian makes $30.49.

“These are the people that are turning on the lights and making sure our kids are safe and making sure our campuses are clean,” says Unit 4 Board of Education president Amy Armstrong.

“We want to make sure they feel valued, and safe coming to work,” Armstrong says. “And part of that is making sure that they have a wage that reflects their hard work.” 

Contract negotiations between Unit 4 and the Champaign Federation of Teachers concluded this April, after almost escalating into a teacher strike over the length of the elementary school day. Teachers did get raises as part of the package.

The district approved a 5% raise for administrators this spring as well.

Emily Hays is a reporter for Illinois Public Media. Follow her on Twitter @amihatt.

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Emily Hays

Emily Hays

Emily Hays started at WILL in October 2021 after three-plus years in local newsrooms in Virginia and Connecticut. She has won state awards for her housing coverage at Charlottesville Tomorrow and her education reporting at the New Haven Independent. Emily graduated from Yale University where she majored in History and South Asian Studies.

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