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WCCUSD Union Members protest Benefit cuts

on December 7, 2011

Five negotiators from the Public Employees Union Local One met outside the West Contra Costa County School District building in the parking lot last week to protest what they called unfair increases to the amount employees pay for benefits.

The more than 1,600 union members in the WCCUSD have not a had a wage increase in the past three years and, beginning in January, will have to pay more for health insurance as well as dental and vision plans. For workers making around $30,000 a year, the new cost will rise from $3,000 to $4,500. While under contract, employees must deal with the district’s raising benefits costs.

In the 2011-12 budget, the board set aside $10 million in special reserve so that in the event of mid-year reductions, the board could draw upon these funds to prevent cutting programs during the current year.

According to the agenda from a Board of Education meeting, the current multi-year projection however uses $3 million of that special reserve in 2012-13 and  $2.5 million in 2013-14 in order to balance the budget. The multi-year projection  includes an elimination of the current K-3 class size reduction  program since it is funded by federal grant money that will not be available after this year. The multi-year projection also includes school closures for Shannon and Lake schools  and the assurance from the City of Richmond to continue to provide $1.5 million  for Kennedy, Olinda and Grant schools.

If there are no mid-year cuts, the board could consider how to allocate the savings from paying off the state loan and the remaining balance of the special reserve. If the mid-year state budget cuts are at the maximum level, the board will need to consider where the additional reductions will be for the 2012-13  school year.

“We’re out here today because during our first full negotiation, the district announced to us that they would not meet with us anymore without giving reason or cause,” said Scott Brown, the supervising business agent for the union and lead chair negotiator. “We haven’t gotten a chance to present our proposal and they’ve refused to come to the bargaining table and meet with us.”

Board of Education member Madeline Kronenberg explained that negotiations over the budget are now ongoing where each side gets a chance to change one thing in the contract. “The overall budget is currently being restructured, so the final decisions won’t be made public until that is taken care of,” said Kronenberg.

Local One represents more than 15,000 members statewide, and is the largest group of non-teaching employees, including plumbers, custodians, secretaries, and occupational therapists. They have also been active supporters of bonds and parcel taxes to aid the district.

Nov. 22 was a scheduled bargaining day between Local One negotiators and the Board of Education. But union members of the bargaining team said the District called them the night before telling them that negotiations were canceled and warning them not to protest.

“Our people have been suffering tremendous economic hardship over the last three years,” Brown said. “We represent some of the most low wage workers in the entire Bay Area, and the effects of benefits going up, no raises, and continued cutbacks has gotten to the point that we actually have part time workers that will be writing checks to go to work as of January.”

One of the affected employees is Teresa Ambrose, a behavior technician with the WCCUSD. Ambrose said she makes $1,000 a month after taxes, barely enough to pay rent. The new benefit payments will leave her with nothing, she said.

”I think the district is stepping on the little people,” she said.

Employees are particularly upset that the district has more than $18 million in a reserve fund, which workers say could be used to help avoid the benefit cost increases. The union helped raise the money for the reserve fund, which was set aside to allow the district to pay off a loan and avoid bankruptcy.

“When all is said and done, there are millions of dollars that they could put towards bringing some relief to the workers in the district,” Brown said. “We just want the district to meet and talk with us.”



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