By Bill Guy
Dec. 15 rally by approximately 1,500 members of the Capistrano Unified Education Association at the district office in San Juan Capistrano.
It’s bad enough that even one CTA chapter has to face unfair bargaining table intransigence. Worse yet when numerous Southern California local associations — including the Alvord Educators Association in Riverside County, the Southwest Teachers Association in San Diego County, and the Capistrano Unified Education Association — are seeing their school boards attempt to declare impasse after extremely brief and cursory surface bargaining. And the Saddleback Valley Educators Association in Orange County is battling a district that threatened to impose a contract illegally before negotiations had even officially begun. These four Southern California associations are taking a stand to protect the rights of teachers and provide the best possible education to California students.
After a grueling 19-hour fact-finding session broke down with no settlement between the Capistrano Unified Education Association (CUEA) and the Cap¬istrano Unified School District (CUSD) — on top of almost five months of constant efforts by CUEA members to move the district toward a fair contract — you’d think the 2,100 south Orange County chapter members might at least consider throwing in the towel. If so, you’d be dead wrong.
In spite of a litany of district efforts to derail negotiations, including “sham” bargaining, delaying tactics, and fudged financial records, CUEA members remain resolute and determined to achieve a reasonable, responsible and respectful contract settlement. Although the neutral fact finder could come back with an acceptable resolution to the bargaining differences, CUEA members continue to organize, both among themselves and with parents through community outreach efforts, to be ready to do whatever it takes to stand up for their students and their profession. “We don’t want to strike, but we will!” was echoed by many of the 1,500 CUEA members who packed a CUSD board meeting on Dec. 15 to present a vote of no confidence in the district’s leadership.
“It is clear to CUEA members that the district is using the current economic challenge to permanently reduce total compensation to employees — decreases that will last long after this fiscal crisis has passed,” says CUEA President Vicki Soderberg. “They want a permanent reduction to the salary schedule and health premium caps that would unfairly increase employee contributions year after year.”
CUSD figures indicate a balanced budget for 2009-10, and CUEA has attempted to offer several cost-saving suggestions to address potential shortfalls in 2010-11, but so far the district has ignored them. “This current bargaining situation is clearly not about how we can work together to weather the current economic challenges,” says Soderberg. “Rather, it’s about how the CUSD school board and interim superintendent can permanently transform the district to the detriment of the educators, and more importantly, the students they are working to educate.”
In Riverside, though Alvord Educators Association members recently saved the district $7 million by agreeing to an early retirement incentive, “the district is demanding to further slash AEA members’ pay by almost 19 percent over the next three years through a series of salary cuts and budget cut furlough days,” says AEA President Gary Hardgrave. “We understand that we are living in touchy economic times — and AEA has offered to consider options that could help save the district money — but we’re not going to stand for them trying to finance the district solely on educators’ backs!”
In an effort to offer the South Bay United School District budget solutions, the Southwest Teachers Association put forth a proposal that would have saved the district approximately $1.5 million. “Despite the proposal offered, the board continues to demand drastic, unreasonable cuts in both salary and benefits,” says Laura Wood, president of the southern San Diego County chapter. “SWTA firmly believes we all need to work together to solve potential financial problems, and we remain ready and willing to do our part. It’s the board that is trying to impose harsh conditions and then walk away from the table, but we’re not going to stand for it.”
In Orange County, having agreed to come to the table for 2009-10 at the beginning of January, the Saddleback Valley Educators Association (SVEA) was faced with a district that appeared displeased with them from the start. SVEA members weren’t even given an opportunity to begin negotiations before an unfair labor practice charge was filed against them. At the beginning of February, after a mere four half-day negotiation sessions with SVEA, Saddleback Valley Unified School District announced its intention to declare impasse.
“SVEA is vigorously defending our members’ right to a fair settlement,” says Gregg Swenson, president of SVEA, “and we’re prepared to do whatever is necessary to force the district to remain at that bargaining table and deal with us fairly, in spite of the District’s threats and bullying tactics. Working together, I believe, we can find solutions that meet both parties’ interests.”
Constant organizing efforts in these Southern California CTA chapters include strengthening communications efforts — both internally with their members and externally with parents and community members — and a variety of advocacy action at school board meetings and in community public arenas designed to educate citizens that fair and responsible bargaining is the best and most appropriate way for all the partners to work together to resolve common problems.
“Teachers understand that we are living in tough economic times and that the current decline in state funding for public schools means sacrifice on everyone’s part,” says Soderberg. “We are willing to do our part, but school boards aren’t listening. Reasonable people working together should be able to find solutions, but when school boards and administrators would rather work against teachers than with us, they will find that educators will stand up and do whatever it takes to protect the integrity of our profession and our ability to provide quality instruction for the students we teach.”
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