With unwavering determination and a shared goal, educators from the Head Start Program at ECS came together today in a powerful protest staged in front of their employer. Their message was clear: they are fighting for a fair increase in salary to address the high cost of living in San Diego.
Blanca Vargas, an esteemed member of the Head Start program at ECS and part of the Service Employees International Union CTW, CLC, passionately expressed the collective sentiment. "The majority of us here are dedicated preschool teachers, armed with a solid educational foundation and Associate's Degrees," she explained during an interview with El Latino San Diego. "While our employer, a nonprofit organization, does require us to hold educational degrees, our fight for a higher salary is driven by the undeniable fact that the cost of living in San Diego is significantly higher than in other places or states."
Vargas emphasized that the company has thus far offered a mere dollar increase, falling short of their expectations. Undeterred, the educators are advocating for a more substantial raise, seeking an increase of around 20%, which would translate to $4 to $5 per hour.
"The current income is simply not enough," Vargas asserted. She shed light on the longstanding practice of ECS Head Start, which has only provided a 2 to 3 percent annual increase over the years. As a result, employees who have dedicated themselves to this cause for decades continue to receive the same pay, making it increasingly challenging to sustain a decent quality of life.
Blanca Vargas wanted to make it clear that the passion for their work remains strong. "We genuinely enjoy our profession, working with children, and making a positive impact on our community. However, the current income falls far short of meeting our needs," she disclosed. Vargas, who has been serving the Episcopal Community Services Head Start in an administrative capacity for approximately 13 years, shared her view that the discrepancy in wages feels unjust, citing examples where fast-food workers can earn as much as $19 per hour, surpassing the compensation received by their counterparts in office positions.
Acknowledging some minor improvements achieved in recent years, Vargas stressed the importance of pursuing further progress due to the inflationary pressures eroding workers' purchasing power.
The atmosphere was charged with anticipation as the protesters chanted the timeless words, "United people will never be defeated. Listen, listen, we're in the fight. Here, there, the people will prevail; yes, we can, yes, we can…" Their spirited voices filled the air as they prepared for a circular march, a symbolic gesture symbolizing their resolute demand for a well-deserved salary increase.
Councilman José Rodríguez, recognizing the indispensable role played by the Head Start educators, joined the rally to voice his support. When Blanca Vargas took the portable loudspeaker and declared, "Extra work and low pay," Councilman Rodríguez stepped forward to address the crowd.
"The work you do is nothing short of essential," he began, capturing the attention of the assembled demonstrators. "In the past, we have acknowledged the importance of those who care for our children and protect the most vulnerable among us. But have they been treated with the respect they deserve? Have they been provided with the resources they need? Is the compensation fair?" he challenged the status quo. The resounding response from the protesters echoed through the streets: "No, no, no!"
Rodríguez continued, igniting hope and determination with his words. "Can we make a change? Can we achieve our goals?" he asked, met with an emphatic chorus of "Yes, we can!" This iconic slogan, championed by farmworker leader César Chávez during the 1960s and 1970s, resonated deeply within the hearts of all present.
As the rally gained momentum, one woman passionately exclaimed, "We deserve it!" In response, Councilman José Rodríguez reminded everyone of the critical role these educators play in ensuring that our families receive the essential services they need. He emphasized that their work is the foundation upon which the community's well-being rests. The councilman concluded his address by urging the demonstrators to stand united in support of their contract, salary, and benefits, advocating for the best possible outcomes for their community.
With unwavering solidarity, Councilman Rodríguez reassured the educators, "I am here to support you 100%." His powerful words reverberated, fueling the collective spirit that permeated the rally.