“This is not a me thing, this is an us thing.”

Jacqueline Milton-Herring’s day starts well before the sun rises. For most of 20 years, this AFSCME Local 1184 member has been a dedicated employee of the Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She has been a bus aide and a bus driver. This means her day, like that of her coworkers, starts well before most people’s alarms go off. Their responsibility: make sure that students make it to school safely and on time.

“Just look at our great safety and on-time records to see we are doing a good job,” said Milton-Herring. “This is not a me thing, this is an us thing. Without the job we do, parents wouldn’t be able to get to their jobs on time, schools wouldn’t be able to start on time.”

But for too long these dedicated public employees have been taken for granted and neglected by the very school board they have dedicated their careers to serve. Even as Superintendent Alberto Carvalho trumpeted the district’s latest budget as proof “the recession is behind us” – with plans to spend millions on adding wireless Internet to school buses -- investments in the drivers themselves have been forgotten.

“When we heard they were going to spend money on Internet for the busses, we cried,” said Milton-Herring, who as a single parent raised six kids while compiling an exemplary record on the job. “I bring home $380 each paycheck. How am I supposed to live off of $800 a month? We are not middle class, we’re not even just getting by.”

Respect for the work bus drivers do is central to the contract negotiations that have just started between the school system and Local 1184. That is why Milton-Herring and her coworkers have taken up the fight.

“Our hours make it tough to know all that is going on, but we sat down with our union leaders and gave them some ideas,” she said. “They listened to our concerns and they showed us the things they are pushing that would help us out. Now we are all fired up because we see they are fighting for us.”

With so much focus on the Fight for $15 across the country, Milton-Herring says that what they are fighting for is not just a number on a paystub but the respect that paystub represents.

“The people who get your kids to school safely should be focused on doing that job perfect every day, not wondering if they are going to have to rely on their neighbors for help paying the bills this month,” she said. “We deserve better than that.”