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Collective Bargaining

For educators in California, their union contract should be as vital as their student gradebook or lesson planner. It’s a critical document that’s the culmination of the collective bargaining process. Understanding it and how it came about is critical to understanding how a local CTA chapter impacts its members’ professional life in profound ways.

At least once every three years, sometimes more often, the union and the school district sit down to negotiate the terms for working in the district. CTA has more than 1,000 chapters across the state, and educators in each chapter bargain a contract defining the issues for all members of the bargaining unit: teachers, librarians, counselors, and all certificated staff.

On Sept. 22, 1975, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed CTA-sponsored Senate Bill 160 by state Sen. Al Rodda, known as the Educational Employment Relations Act or the Rodda Act, to give California public school teachers collective bargaining rights. The legislation established an administrative body that became the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB).

Disputes over labor law are settled by filing an “unfair labor practice” charge with PERB. Disputes over sections of a labor contract are settled by filing grievances against the school district.

Once a union contract settlement is reached, it must be ratified by a majority vote of a chapter’s members, and then by the school board. When the contract expires, the process begins again. If a state mediator cannot help break any bargaining impasse that occurs, and a non-binding report from a neutral fact-finder fails to resolve the crisis, only then can teachers strike.

Not everything is negotiable. Critical job issues that are within the legal scope of bargaining include compensation, hours of work, safety matters, class size, evaluation and disciplinary procedures, health care, access to personnel files, preparation time, seniority, transfer rights, a grievance procedure with binding arbitration to settle major disputes, discrimination, job assignments, and early retirement.

Issues not within the scope of bargaining include a district’s staffing needs, the district budget process, matters affecting employees outside the bargaining unit, the timing of layoffs, an advisory committee formed by the employer, and access to information unrelated to union representation.

Bargaining law levels the playing field. Teachers sit down as equals with administrators and both sides start the process with initial proposals. Even without today’s harsh economic climate, where many California school districts hit with cuts are trying to reduce health care benefits and salaries and impose furloughs or worse, the bargaining process has shown that teachers are willing to push back to protect their profession and their compensation.

There have been more than 170 California public school strikes, sickouts and other work stoppages since 1975. The most recent major showdown was the 10-day strike by the Hayward Education Association in April 2007, which earned teachers an 11 percent raise over two years.

Kathleen Crummey, a Hayward teacher for more than 30 years, led that strike. She died of cancer July 24 of this year and was taking union-related calls in the final weeks of her life, said her husband, former CTA Board member Dayton Crummey. He joined hundreds of East Bay CTA leaders, former CTA President Barbara E. Kerr, family and friends for a public memorial Sept. 12 at Hayward City Hall.

“Kathleen Crummey, working 12-hour days, coordinated that 10-day strike like the extraordinary labor leader she was,” CTA President David A. Sanchez said at the memorial. “She now belongs to a much larger family of teachers who dedicated so much over the decades to fighting for the rights and dignity of their colleagues. By continuing her work, we honor her and our profession.”

Some districts have embraced what is known as “interest-based” bargaining — a model that’s generally less stressful than in other districts and can be effective if all parties have a sincere desire to make it work. The East Whittier City School District and the East Whittier Education Association (EWEA) successfully used this method earlier this year to reach an agreement.

In interest-based bargaining, the parties brainstorm to find a “win-win” solution that doesn’t start with specific bargaining proposals. The focus is on developing mutually beneficial agreements based on the of the parties — the needs, desires and concerns important to each side. The goal is to keep the conversation flowing and avoid “stopping points.”

“We started it last year and are pretty happy with it,” said Madeline Shapiro, immediate past president of EWEA. “Instead of being adversarial, we all sit down together and talk about our interests and why they are important to us. Then we talk about different options for making this happen in our district — and our contract — and we can usually come to a compromise. It moves everybody’s agenda along.”

The result was that EWEA recently bargained a new contract that contained no concessions, which Shapiro believes is a victory in today’s tough economic climate. Negotiators on both sides of the table agreed there would be no “reopeners” next year and felt good about the process. Fortunately, there were financial reserves set aside to help this district survive lean times.

Such cordial relations didn’t happen overnight, said Shapiro. The EWEA worked for years to build a foundation that would allow interest-based bargaining. This included forming a political action committee, fundraising and getting involved in local campaigns. Chapter members were instrumental in electing school board members who were friends of education and willing to listen to their concerns.

Before the historic Rodda Act of 1975 gave teachers real bargaining rights, they suffered under the toothless Winton Act, passed by the California Legislature in 1965 to pacify restless educators across the state.

It allowed teachers to “meet and confer” with administrators on key issues, but little was accomplished as “meet and confer” degenerated into “meet and defer” as districts stonewalled. Districts were under no obligation to act on teachers’ proposals, and school boards had the final say anyway to do as they wished.

Most contracts build on prior agreements, re-adopting some language over and over for years, but a new CTA chapter representing nearly 450 teachers in 19 Green Dot charter schools in Los Angeles County had to start from scratch several years ago.

In early September, the Asociación de Maestros Unidos was bargaining its fourth contract, keeping its binding arbitration language and other gains intact, and being watched by charter school teachers across the nation, said chapter President Abby Garcia, a teacher at Animo Leadership Charter High School in Inglewood.

“Now our contract has been used as a model contract by charter schools across the country,” said Garcia, in her sixth year with Green Dot. “We are helping to dispel the myth that teachers only stay at charters a few years and move on. This contract gives us rights we can depend on. It’s our union work, and it’s exciting.”

Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

© 1999-2012 California Teachers Association