Union density for Head Start workers in San Diego County reached 100 percent when 186 workers at Episcopal Community Services (ECS) Head Start recently voted 168-7 for Service Employees International Union Local 2028.

Now employees will begin to work towards getting a strong first union contract. Concerns are health care costs (especially family benefits, which run over $200 per month), better pay, and a bilingual pay differential at an agency with an overwhelmingly Latina workforce.

ECS workers complain that shortages of supplies, including food for the children, has been an increasing problem in recent years, even as top management salaries have risen dramatically. Head Start workers who join SEIU are joining a nationwide movement against Bush’s cuts to social programs, including his “reauthorization” package (H.R. 2210), which threatens to turn the Head Start program over to cash-strapped state governments. Such a shift will translate into cuts, school closings, and layoffs. Entire state programs could be eliminated.

ECS’s election follows on the heels of a union victory for Alpha Kappa Alpha Head Start employees just one week earlier. And in February of this year, 850 Neighborhood House Association workers joined Local 2028.

Head Start was one of the “Great Society” programs. Head Start activists note that the program has made a huge difference in the lives of millions of low-income families since the National Head Start Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The recent chain of union successes in San Diego county is an important step in Head Start’s defense, and a reminder that even in these difficult times, workers continue to struggle and win.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org