By Wednesday at the latest, the educators will know how their working conditions will change this year. And improve it. From this Monday onwards, Verdi and the civil servants’ association will be negotiating with the Association of Municipal Employers’ Associations (VKA); The hotel is booked until Wednesday noon. The dispute revolves around money and time for 330,000 employees in the social and educational services of the municipalities. Verdi would like to push through a higher classification and justifies this with the increased requirements. Furthermore, educators should get additional free time, so-called relief days, when they are particularly stressed. “We will not conclude a deal without discharge,” announced Christine Behle, Verdi’s chief negotiator. That will be difficult.

“The ideas of the unions are out of the question,” says the VKA. More days off would result in the work having to be done by other colleagues. But they are already overloaded. Verdi had pushed through compensation for special burdens at the Berlin hospital groups Vivantes and Charité and received a lot of applause for it. Now the next attempt follows. “The employers have it in their own hands: If everything is going well and there are enough staff, then you don’t need any additional days off,” Behle told the Tagesspiegel.

In principle, the union legitimizes its claim with the increasingly difficult working conditions. “The legislator wants integration and inclusion – the implementation should take place in the daycare center,” says Behle. However, staffing has not grown to the same extent as the expansion of early childhood care. In order to be able to work pedagogically, 170,000 specialists were missing.

The shortage of staff, in turn, means that 25 percent of those starting their careers drop out again in the first five years. The pandemic has increased the frustration significantly. “Many educators are pissed off because the special working conditions in the pandemic were not seen,” says Behle. And it doesn’t stop. “Corona is still a problem, between 20 and 30 percent of the employees in the daycare centers are sick,” says the trade unionist. “Many even get infected several times.”

Verdi refers to information from the health insurance companies, according to which the group of employees who suffer most from burnout is in educational and social services. Not only in early childhood care, but also in social work, the requirements have increased due to the pandemic: depending on the municipality and focal point, a social worker comes to 25 to 120 cases. Domestic violence has increased and there are simply not enough staff in this area, says the deputy Verdi chairwoman.

Behle’s tariff partner on the other side of the table will be Karin Welge, mayor of Gelsenkirchen, for the next three days. Welge has been President of the VKA since the beginning of the year and is now conducting negotiations for the employers for the first time. The demands for higher classifications alone would mean around 500 million euros in additional costs for the municipalities, the VKA has calculated and rejects this as “disproportionate and not financeable”.

The tariff structure of the municipal public service is a finely tuned system. “General wage increases for individual professional groups would severely disrupt this structure,” argues the VKA. If an upgrade of individual groups of employees is considered at all, then only differentiated: Welge is willing to pay more for certain groups of employees in the day care center and in social work. Although, according to the employers, there is actually no reason to do so. Spending on child day care in Germany has risen by 140 percent since 2010 – to 38 billion euros last year, which was provided by the federal, state and local governments. Municipalities accounted for around 47 percent of childcare expenditures. The state share was 51.7 percent, 1.3 percent is borne by the federal government. Berlin is also one of the states – the payment of the day-care center employees in the city states is regulated by the collective agreement of the federal states. A total of almost 800,000 people work in social and educational services.

In the municipal sponsorship, the income of the educators is “significantly higher than that of employees in other areas of the municipal public service”, the VKA has calculated. The starting salaries after training “are regularly around 3142 euros per month. They increase to 4446 euros per month after a corresponding period of employment and in the case of difficult work,” the VKA continues. “Compared to other providers in the social and educational service, the educators in the municipal day-care centers have a salary that is up to ten percent higher.” Even when interpreting the current income situation, both sides are far apart.

“The information from the VKA on the salaries of the educators comes from the fairy tale book,” says Verdi Vice Behle. According to her calculation, the starting salary for most educators is 2931 euros. The salary increases to 3900 euros after 20 years of service. Then it’s over. The 4,400 euros quoted by the VDA are for difficult jobs and after 25 years of work. Behle is convinced that without more money, the gap in skilled workers cannot be closed. If the upgrading of the professions succeeds by Wednesday, then the employees of non-municipal employers will also benefit. “Our collective agreement for the municipalities is the key currency, churches and charities usually adopt it 1:1,” says Behle. If there is no agreement by Wednesday, Verdi will call the union members in the day care centers to strike.