West Contra Costa school district, teachers to continue salary negotiations
on September 19, 2015
West Contra Costa school officials and the local teachers union said Thursday they intend to resume bargaining in a few weeks after teachers rejected a proposed settlement while demanding bigger pay increases.
No dates have been set. Amanda Henderson, president of United Teachers of Richmond, said the union is assembling and training a new bargaining team after teachers voted down the proposed agreement by a vote of 686 to 448.
Teachers said the pay increases in the agreement they voted down were unfairly allocated. Raises averaged 4 percent in each of the first two years. The first year was a restructuring of the pay scale, so the raises were not to be implemented uniformly across all pay grades and experience levels.
The West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) board met Wednesday night at Lovonya DeJean Middle School in Richmond, where trustees had planned to vote on the tentative accord. Instead, the board took no action. Teachers, dressed in green to show unity, filled the auditorium, and during public comment took turns at the microphone demanding better terms than those they had just rejected.
Marcus Walton, communications director for WCCUSD, said the district will go back to the bargaining table to address teachers’ concerns.
“We understand and respect our teachers and know that they are key to what we do and key to our mission. Without them we can’t educate our students and prepare them for college and career pathways,” Walton said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to negotiate something that will work for the district fiscally but also compensates the teachers fairly.”
Union bargainers said their main goals now include competitive salaries for new teachers, stronger incentives for mid-level teachers to stay in the district and better retirement terms for veteran teachers.
Henderson said the entire pay scale for teachers needs to change in order to achieve these goals. One reason union members rejected the tentative settlement, she said, was that some of the proposed pay changes left people at certain steps with very small increases and others with very large increases.
“The main thing that I heard was that people were just uncomfortable with everyone getting different amounts,” Henderson said. “People felt it was unfair that it pitted member against member.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, some teachers held signs saying: “4 percent net really? Would you accept that?”
Many senior educators said the agreement did not give enough pay increases to allow them to retire on time.
“We veterans, who have worked throughout our lifetimes at some of the lowest wages in California … we need to retire with a bit of dignity,” Beatrice Lieberman, a kindergarten teacher at Kensington Elementary, told the trustees at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
Susan Billings, a second-grade teacher at Kensington Elementary, said many of her colleagues do not have the means to buy houses in West Contra Costa.
“I have colleagues, teachers in this district who are living in little apartments and they’re desperately afraid that their rent is going to be raised,” Billings said. “They can’t afford it.”
The rejected contract proposal was also criticized as being divisive, as some teachers felt that new hires were unfairly given a higher increase.
Miesha Harris Gash, the chair of the union’s bargaining team for the tentative agreement, said the union has to look at what is best for all members.
“It’s not perfect, by no means,” she said. “We’re a union, and it’s about all of us, how do we work to the benefit of everyone. Compromises have to be made. It is not the desire when you’re in a union to make it seem like this group is better than that group.”
Last fall, before salary negotiations started, more than 500 teachers attended a rally at a school board meeting where they demanded a 30 percent increase. “So we knew we needed to start really big,” Henderson said.
Union officers insist that problems with the current salary schedule require a more complex approach than a straight across-the-board increase.
“Now we go back to the table and re-think it,” Henderson said. “We’ve heard our members.”
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