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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There’s no question that our teachers are underpaid and deserve more money. As someone who comes from a house of Labor I’m in favor of workers being properly compensated for their labor.
One of the problems that all workers face, though, is that no matter how much they might deserve a pay increase, they have to ask that all important question: How are they going to pay for it?
The teachers can’t just claim that the District has the money, they need to show the District negotiators and Board members where in the budget that money is at.
One thing I heard at this meeting that was disturbing was one teacher’s insistence that District staff be ‘fired’ and that programs be cancelled in order to provide more money for the teachers. When workers seek to increase their own wages at the expense of other workers then they need to reevaluate their priorities.
The overall feeling I get after reading the article plus the only comment given at it’s close is not a positive one for WCCUSD teachers.
Rather than simply writing that the TA was voted down because of the inequality of the raise it could have shown how that looked with the 1st and 2nd year teachers getting 10 and 11% while the 26th year was at 1.5% and the 28th year at 0.3%.
The article could have also stated the history of the union, the 9% pay cut in 1991, how for years teachers with 20 years or more had taken lower raises to gain lifelong health care benefits, and how in 2009 that was taken away. Only those teachers able to retire would keep those benefits.
And Don, I’m not sure of the year, but during my 26 years as a teacher, the administration was not so top heavy. The superintendent some years back created four new positions calling them Area 1, 2, 3, and 4 superintendents. These positions are not solo positions, they carry with them even more staff with them. And that was when our student population was 3,000 students larger.
Perhaps the teacher who spoke that we should rid our district of many who work within the administration did not elaborate as she should have, but the truth of the matter is, there are too many at the WCCUSD money troft who are not teachers….and yes, if it take this, their positions need to be eliminated so that we teachers finally get the salaries we deserve. Check salaries in other districts for comparisons.
Let me be more clear…I certainly don’t think that all district staff should be fired. WCCUSD, more than other districts, is top heavy with downtown administration. Certainly, many of those people hold jobs that are absolutely necessary, but my guess is that if we really look at the job descriptions, many aren’t necessary. Please check out the salaries that downtown people are earning compared to the teachers who are doing the real work of education. If times are so lean, the district should stick with necessities and perhaps cut down on the huge salaries of various administrators. Also, I’d bet that some programs aren’t very productive or successful. I’ve seen millions of dollars spent over the years on fluff that didn’t contribute to the education of children. The district has been busy spending lots and lots of money this last year, probably to have nothing left to pay teachers. Many new downtown positions have been created and there has been endless spending in other areas; useless workbooks, copies of this and that useless waste, computers, laptops for teachers, tablets, etc…So much money has been spent over the long years as well for items and people that didn’t help, but hindered learning…I suggest that the district look at it’s spending, reel it in, and offer their teachers a decent wage for a change as they got SO much money this year, millions and millions more than before. Yes, I do think that some administrators downtown most likely don’t have necessary jobs. They should be cut. Teachers do need to be paid properly. That’s never happened and it’s time to find or redirect the money. I didn’t have time to explain my thoughts in detail in the speech, but now I hope you understand that the statement I made wasn’t meant to be a blanket statement for everyone or every program, but only the ones that don’t directly contribute to the mission of the district; education in the classrooms. .
The site to check salaries of everyone in the district is called Transparent California.
After reading the above article and comments I (hope I’m wrong) believe this could be a way to separate the Teacher’s Union. Teacher’s need to stick TOGETHER and remember the SACRIFICE your veteran teacher’s lived with to pave the way for you. Fair across the table is fair to all. Good luck!!
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