On the Picket Line

Durham school workers walk out over pay shortages

By Pat Travis
March 4, 2024

DURHAM, N.C. — In early February, Durham public school workers and support staff shut down as many as 12 schools in a fight with the Board of Education over pay. They set up picket lines, held rallies and brought their demands to board meetings.

Teachers, who were not affected by the pay dispute, stayed out in solidarity.

Some 1,300 workers, including bus mechanics, cafeteria workers and speech therapists  were told they were overpaid from July to December of 2023 and they may have to give the money back. This hit the lowest paid hardest.

The board’s proposals to “fix the problem” were rejected by the workers’ union, the Durham Association of Educators, which organized the walkouts. Christy Patterson of DAE told Reckon Daily, “How can I go into a classroom fully prepared to teach if I cannot even provide for my family?”

The dispute began after the board’s finance officer reported they had over budgeted by $10 million. Checks were issued even though the new state budget was still pending. The superintendent apologized. As protests mounted, the board voted to take money from a “rainy-day” fund, saying workers could keep the pay they had received through January.

It is still unknown what workers will be paid for the rest of this year.

The Board of Education told parents they would have to drive their own children to school due to a bus driver shortage. Buses could not run without inspections by the mechanics, who were involved in the union action. Some 75% of the students take the bus to and from school.

Since the financial crisis began, the board’s chief financial officer and the school superintendent have resigned.

The board’s actions have had a devastating effect. Based on the pay they were promised, many workers made decisions on housing, cars, second or third jobs and child care that cannot be undone.