Sweetwater EA Stands Up to 11th-hour Change in Health Benefits
Sweetwater Education Association members in San Diego County face an eleventh hour change in the district contribution to health benefits that could cost them in excess of $3,000. Superintendent Ed Brand presented the new bargaining proposal on October 7, three weeks before open enrollment was set to begin, threatening to impose the change if SEA does not accept it.
“The district is trying to unethically use benefits as a way to extract concessions during current contract negotiations,” said SEA President Roberto Rodriguez, adding that the move would hit SEA families hard.
Kicking into gear, SEA’s organizing team coordinated a “Trunk or Treat” rally in the district office parking lot before a school board meeting, with teachers bringing their children to collect treats from the trunks of SEA members’ cars. Pizza was provided for an estimated 600 attendees. “We wanted to demonstrate that SEA knows how to treat our families,” said Helen Farias, SEA organizing chair.
After the school board meeting began, the rally crowd chanted, “Brand’s Gotta Go!” and “Respect Our Contract!” When Board President Jim Cartmill called a recess, chanting SEA members and supporters filled the board room, and community members, district employees, and teachers delivered speeches. But 40 minutes later, a group of Chula Vista police officers and the two district security guards cleared the board room.
With the public forced to stay outside, the meeting continued, with only a few members of the media allowed inside. Over 30 speakers who were there to speak on non-agenda items, including the health benefits issue, were not be allowed to address the board. “Clearing the room was not only excessive, it showed a total disregard for the community and the democratic process” said Rodriguez.
As SEA continues to engage in organizing activities to highlight their issues, the association is filing grievances and unfair labor practices, and is also looking into other possible legal actions. Four of the five Sweetwater district board members are currently under indictment on a variety of corruption charges, certainly an additional factor in the situation.