By Dina Martin
Ceres Unified Teachers Association members on a three-day strike for a new contract.
In the wake of a three-day strike by Capistrano teachers in Southern California, teachers in the Central Valley town of Ceres began to organize and mobilize to fight off a similar threat by their district to impose a contract with an 8.5 percent permanent salary cut.
As a result of their effort, they not only obtained a settlement in their favor, but became a stronger chapter in the process.
"This whole thing has done more to improve support for our chapter than anything we've done," says Cheryl Brewer, president of the Ceres Unified Teachers Association (CUTA). "And we're going to continue. We are going to turn our Crisis Committee into an Organizing Committee."
About 70 percent of the nearly 600 members participated in some sort of action this spring, which included several rallies, writing letters to the editor, attending board meetings, and taking part in planning activities.
"I got hundreds of supportive e-mails through this process. I even had a group of people who were 'Prayer Warriors' and would let me know they were sending out their prayers to me," Brewer says.
After going without a contract for almost 700 days, CUTA members became particularly incensed when the district threatened to impose a settlement that would require teachers to accept an 8.5 percent cut in pay. Even more galling was the fact that the superintendent had received a $3,000 raise, an additional week of paid vacation and five fewer work days. Meanwhile, other administrators continued to receive car allowances, expense accounts and trips paid for by taxpayers.
"The district's threat to impose a contract not only disrespected the negotiating process, it insulted the teachers who are committed to our students. We've said it over and over again: To maintain a quality education for students in this district, it is important to invest in teachers," Brewer says.
A report by the independent fact-finding panel in June bolstered the teachers' position, and a settlement was reached shortly after. The chapter agreed to an 8.5 percent salary decrease in 2010-11, lowered to a 7.5 percent decrease in the following year. The contract also cuts five non-instructional workdays until salaries are restored. Class sizes will also be held down, allowing only one additional student per class in 2011-12 and again in 2012-13.
"No one is thrilled, but it is better than what was offered and what would have been imposed, and the fact that the cut is not permanent makes it easier," Brewer says.