By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
A typical teacher’s workday begins early and ends late. It includes offering extra help to struggling students at lunch or after school. It may also include coaching sports, supervising extracurricular activities and grading papers at home after dinner.
With such a schedule, the idea of teachers punching a time clock was unheard-of and considered ludicrous until school board members and administrators in the Sausalito Marin City School District demanded in 2009 that teachers clock in. But it was no ordinary time clock: The district had purchased a biometric scanner used in government and corporate security to identify employees by their thumbprint. Employees had to press their thumb to a small scanner, which compared the image to employer records. Amazingly, the district had only eight teachers and a few classified staff members to keep track of with this state-of-the-art, high-tech equipment, until teachers won a settlement recently that freed them from this unnecessary and degrading policy.
When the time clocks were installed, the Sausalito District Teachers Association (SDTA) filed a lawsuit in Marin Superior Court, claiming the equipment was in violation of its contract. The lawsuit maintained that time clocks are regulated under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which specifically excludes teachers
because they are not hourly employees. However, the district maintained that the scanners were needed for “safety reasons” so it would be able to keep track of employees’ whereabouts during emergencies or evacuations. But SDTA members felt otherwise.
“They said it was for safety reasons, but there was a charter school on campus and staff there didn’t have to do it,” says Susan Cassidy, president of SDTA. “The district office is also on our campus, and their staff didn’t have to punch in either.”
Teachers felt “demoralized” by the policy and were also greatly inconvenienced, says Cassidy. “We’d have to come schlepping down to the office and punch in, and sometimes the office wasn’t open yet and you’d have to wait. And if we stayed late, the office was closed when we went to punch out.”
When the clocks were first put in place, teachers jokingly asked if they would be paid for all the extra hours they were putting in. But that didn’t happen.
Teachers initially tried to get rid of the time clocks through bargaining, says Cassidy. SDTA pointed out that there were progressive disciplinary procedures already in place for administrators to deal with an employee who was chronically late or not working the hours mandated by the contract. But the district refused to budge, and SDTA members were forced to use the biometric time clocks for two years on the advice of CTA counsel.
But as a court date drew near, school board members and administrators began to have second thoughts. In the spring, they agreed to eliminate the requirement that teachers submit to thumb scans and punch in. (Classified employees are still required to do so, however.)
“When I heard that, I jumped for joy,” says Cassidy of the victory. “I think the district settled with us as a way to save money. They didn’t want to fight the lawsuit, because there’s a very good chance we would have won.”
Now that teachers are “off the clock,” she hopes that there can be time set aside for healing.
“We hope this will result in building trust between the teachers association and the board,” says Cassidy. “That’s what we are really interested in.”