By Mike Myslinski
Hayward Education Association President Kathleen Crummey, who passed away in July, worked 10-day strike in April.
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.
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. Several studies show that collective bargaining in public schools improves student learning. In January of this year, a report by PACE (Policy Analysis for California Education) on bargaining in school districts concluded that "many school boards and unions have used the flexibility inherent in contract negotiations to create inventive and targeted solutions for specific district problems." It looks at the benefits for students and teachers of a local parcel tax ballot proposition passed by United Educators of San Francisco, the Quality Teacher and Education Act of 2008. The Proposition A parcel tax includes "differential rewards" for teachers in certain areas, such as hard-to-staff schools, and was the result of negotiations between UESF, San Francisco Unified and the school board. (Click here to see the PACE report.)
"Educators — and their unions — have a solid track record of supporting policies that boost achievement for most students, and policy makers should view teachers unions as partners in the education reform process, not adversaries," concluded a 2002 study by Indiana University Bloomington.
The Harvard Graduate School of Education concurred in a 2005 study titled "The Effects of Collective Bargaining on Teacher Quality." The study said students are the winners at unionized schools because teacher quality can be better: "On the whole, it appears that collective bargaining has the potential to influence teacher quality. With a focus on what induces strong candidates into the classroom, what helps teachers become more effective once on the job, and what sustains them over a long-term career, collective bargaining could play a central role in increasing teacher quality."
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 interests 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."
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.
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."
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