By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Members of Associated Calexico Teachers wearing their bright yellow T-shirts with the slogan "An injury to one is an injury to all."
Just when temperatures and tempers were nearly at the boiling point, members of Associated Calexico Teachers (ACT) reached an agreement with the district over a new contract that protects health and welfare benefits for teachers and also offers a slight hourly wage increase. The teachers were unhappy with the district's proposal to have 1.8 percent of their salaries deducted to pay for the cost of health care next year — especially after going without a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for three years. Maintaining the status quo for health care in the contract, which extends through June 2010, is considered a victory in these tough economic times, says ACT President Carmen Durazo.
It has been a hard-fought battle at this desert town adjoining the Mexican border. Negotiations were at impasse for a year, and during this time, ACT members engaged in a vigorous campaign demanding fair pay and respect from Calexico Unified School District administrators and school board members. ACT members regularly protested before school and at school board meetings wearing bright yellow T-shirts with the slogan "An injury to one is an injury to all."
The association was featured in the local newspaper on a regular basis protesting for fair treatment, and received coverage when CTA President David A. Sanchez attended a rally at Calexico High School in April.
ACT members charge that the district did not bargain in good faith and engaged in "stalling" tactics by putting new items on the table every time the parties come close to reaching an agreement. In May, district officials passed out a "Negotiations Update" flier that had obviously been written before a negotiating session had even adjourned.
"We weren't even done, and they started handing out the flier," says Durazo. "We were flabbergasted."
ACT members are pleased to finally have a contract, but are not pleased with the disrespectful treatment they have received during the past year. Teachers were ordered to come to school during a swine flu closure; half of the 100 pink slips given to teachers were rescinded, while 33 of 34 pink slips given to administrators were rescinded; and the chapter had to fight to keep a QEIA school from being closed.
"We have so many grievances, we can't even keep up with the paperwork," says Durazo on a day when the mercury has climbed to 105 degrees at Calexico High School. "Needless to say, morale has been really low, and tempers have been rising along with the temperature."
"We are happy to have a contract, and our negotiating team did a wonderful job," adds Durazo. "But we will continue fighting for justice and fairness, because that's what a union is for."
Numerous disruptions in the Calexico district
- After several students were diagnosed with swine flu in April, Kennedy Gardens Elementary School was closed for a week. Officials feared that the spread of the virus could endanger the lives of students attending school in the border town. Teachers, however, were ordered to continue showing up at the school every day, and there was no concern for their health and safety.
- After the district pink-slipped 100 out of 500 teachers in March, 34 administrators were also given the axe. Within a short amount of time, however, all but one of the administrators had their pink slips rescinded. A little more than half of the pink-slipped teachers were rehired. "Pink-slipping administrators was just symbolic," says ACT Vice President Bill Hodge. "We don't think for a minute they actually planned to get rid of their own people."
- Calexico High School was the site of a mercury contamination incident that made nationwide headlines in early spring. The district at one time leased a classroom at the high school for a program to train nurses. After the class ended, the district neglected to remove a blood pressure cuff and monitor that were screwed into the wall. Students in the classroom dismantled the apparatus and began playing with the mercury inside, unbeknownst to the substitute teacher overseeing the class. Students passed the poisonous substance to fellow students, and some brought it home. The mercury spill occurred on a Thursday, and the school did not take action. A week later, the Environmental Protection Agency closed the campus for decontamination.
- The district laid off many kindergarten teachers, replacing them with retired teachers hired part time — and at a lower wage — during math and English classes only. By doing so, say ACT members, schools retained their 20-to-1 funding for class size reduction while leaving teachers with 30-to-1 classes for much of the day. Also, the district hired intervention "tutors" to work with students. Many of these tutors were still in college and were not even in a teacher credentialing program. However, they were placed on the district's seniority list along with retired and substitute teachers, and were used to staff summer classes instead of certificated teachers.
- The association successfully fought the district's plan to close a Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) school and use the funding for unauthorized purposes.
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