Paul Harrison was ready to give up his job of seven years as a “yard duty” for Hatch Elementary School. He was furloughed at the start of the school year due to the school closures. Then, he said, his requests for a formalized pay structure and raise were ignored by the district.
He always thought his job was undervalued. Those on yard duty look after the school’s more than 500 students during drop-off, recess, lunch and pickup from schools. They supervise play and see that everyone gets where they need to go for a productive school day.
Harrison found out the $14 an hour he’s paid is now below Half Moon Bay’s legal minimum wage, and he began to wonder when yard duties would be fairly compensated.
After months of pestering the district and finally elevating his concerns to the superintendent, the Cabrillo Unified School District board is expected to take up Harrison’s call for raises for part-time employees like him who aren’t part of a union. District Superintendent Sean McPhetridge says his human resources department was already considering adding raises for part-time unrepresented employees before Harrison’s complaint, but Harrison doesn’t buy it.
“Had we not gotten upset, we may have quit,” Harrison said. “No one would have ever gotten back to us.”
When the pandemic first hit and schools shut down in March 2020, Harrison says the district continued to pay him and the other four members of the “Blue Team” of Hatch yard duties. But come fall, the Hatch team plus four yard duties at other elementary schools were furloughed. There was no reopening in sight then, and the yard duties had no idea when they might be back on the blacktop.
Harrison’s usual 20-hour-per-week job was cut to just four. Work was only available sporadically for teachers who needed help or when materials needed to be distributed. He said some of his colleagues went on unemployment rather than take the meager hours. By November, some positions had opened up, and he took a job supervising learning pods for the Boys and Girls Club of the Coastside.
In the fall, Harrison started looking into joining the California School Employees Association, the union for classified staff. According to CSEA President Stig Lynne, part-time employees like yard duties weren’t allowed to join until a few years ago. Ever since, they haven’t had enough interest to get approval.
Harrison said he was told that the process to join would be lengthy, but might work out by spring. His follow-up requests for more information got no response. Then, Harrison was told the district isn’t beholden to local minimum wage laws, but rather state law.
“We just feel helpless,” Harrison said. “We have no recourse.”
McPhetridge agreed to propose raises for unrepresented part-time employees at the April school board meeting. After teachers, union-represented staff and non-union full-time district employees, employees like Harrison would be the last group to get a pay bump.
“My commitment is to bring back an hourly rate to the board that's adjusted commensurate to what other employees got,” McPhetridge said. “Although (the city minimum wage) doesn’t apply to us, we’d like to match that.”
Harrison wants McPhetridge and the board to take a deeper look at wages for yard duties, which he argues should at least match the $18 an hour he makes as a pod supervisor because the yard duty job is more demanding. McPhetridge said he’s not comfortable negotiating salaries with staff who aren’t elected union representatives.
McPhetridge and Cabrillo board members have promised to take up the raises at the April meeting, and Harrison said he will likely return to his old role at the start of reopening. “It’s a labor of love for me,” Harrison said. “It would hurt to have to quit, but there is a tipping point. Something has to give.”