Custodians, supervisors and classified staff in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District could receive Hero Pay compensation if district leaders approve an agreement during a meeting this Thursday.

After months of negotiations, a Memorandum of Understanding was ratified on Friday, June 11 by SEIU Local 99, a union representing hundreds of SMMUSD custodians, food service workers, teaching assistants and other classified school employees. Now, SMMUSD will consider approving the agreement, which means union members will likely be eligible to receive up to $2,000 depending on their assignment during the pandemic.

In recognition of the unique challenges of the school year and the commitment and dedication from other SMMUSD employees, all non-represented employees will be eligible for a maximum $2,000 off-schedule payment as well, according to Tuesday’s agenda.

The proposed pay bump comes a few months after classified staff spoke during a board meeting about their struggles during the pandemic.

Maintenance Worker Henry Plasencia, who has been one of the more outspoken members of the union during the process, said he almost lost his life after spending six weeks in an induced coma.

“My life was almost cut short and now God has given me a second chance at living again. That’s why I’m dedicated to fighting for even a dollar more an hour. So, if I go my family has an extra dollar to go a little bit further,” Plasencia said. “When you’re gone and they ask, ‘How much was in his last paycheck or pension?’ — that’s when the Hero Pay is going to help because there will be something extra there to help cover the rent, to help cover the light bill or put food on the table. That’s when that $5 an hour is going to count because, at any minute while we’re working, one of us could get sick, go into the hospital, and whatever we have in the bank is all our families are going to have. And that’s why I say this fight for an extra $5 an hour is worth it.”

Max Arias, Executive Director of SEIU Local 99, said Plasencia’s story is one of many that can be told by the essential workers in Southern California. That’s why he and his peers have been asking to institute hero pay since last year, Arias said, explaining how the school district has repeatedly stated that it does not have the resources to recognize workers with additional pay even though other school districts like Los Angeles Unified and Hacienda La Puente Unified have secured additional pay of $5 an hour for essential workers.

“The people that do the cleaning are the ones that make the least, but it shouldn’t be so, especially now because they’re the only ones that are being asked to risk the health of their families and themselves to ensure students have a clean work environment,” Arias added.