WCCUSD teachers union prepares for next step after two-week impasse over salaries
on December 4, 2022
More than two weeks after the West Contra Costa Unified School District declared an impasse with United Teachers of Richmond, many educators are feeling scared and uncertain about the future of their jobs.
Since the negotiation process began in February, UTR’s focus has been on ensuring all students have high quality, certificated educators; providing emotionally and physically safe learning environments; and prioritizing shared decision making among students, their families and teachers. But the sides have been unable to agree on salary, which led the district on Nov. 17 to declare an impasse, surprising union members, said UTR President John Zabala.
WCCUSD’s most recent offer was a 6% raise for this year, a 2.5% one-time bonus and a 4% raise for next year.
“We countered and said, you know, that wasn’t acceptable,” Zabala said.
UTR is asking for a 10% raise for this year, 7% for next year and a percentage based on the cost-of-living adjustment for the following year.
In a Nov. 17 news release, the district said: “WCCUSD cited difficulties reaching an understanding about what a competitive salary offer would look like while preserving the district’s fiscal solvency.”
On Sept. 23, WCCUSD received a letter from the Contra Costa County Office of Education saying the district is “no longer fiscally healthy and is unable to meet its financial obligations.” This puts the district at risk of being taken over by the state.
However, Zabala said UTR is confident the district can afford the union’s proposed raises. He said members are upset because teachers in other Bay Area districts are receiving more competitive salaries. For example, Berkeley Unified School District recently agreed to raise teachers’ salaries 12% over the next two years.
Now that an impasse has been declared, the mediation process will begin. Mediation will involve a state-appointed independent, third party to meet and discuss with both sides.
If the sides are still at an impasse when the mediation ends, a fact-finding process will be conducted by a three person panel — one appointed by UTR, one by WCCUSD and one by the Public Employee Relations Board. The neutral party will publish a public report on the facts found from the case and suggestions for resolving the impasse. WCCUSD can then make one final offer. After this step, the union would be allowed to strike. However, Zabala stressed in a newsletter to union members on Nov. 28 that a strike is not the goal.
“Our goal is a contract that uplifts the students of WCCUSD by providing a permanent, certificated educator in every classroom,” Zabala wrote. “Our goal is a contract that prioritizes shared decision making and community schools where parents, students and staff set the collective vision.”
District spokesperson Liz Sanders said WCCUSD has successfully negotiated salaries with other bargaining units and is committed to increasing educators’ salaries.
“We are grateful that UTR has expressed a desire to avoid a strike, and we understand their efforts to assess strike readiness,” Sanders said. “As a district, we share the desire to avoid a strike and the need to ensure organizational preparedness.”
In November, 92% of union members signed a petition to take part in collective action. As a result, members participated in a Work to Rule day on Friday and will do so again next Friday. On these days, members only do the labor described in the contract, which means working only during contractual hours and not attending optional meetings.
UTR co-organizing Chair Gabby Micheletti said it’s frustrating for union members to devote their time to the impasse.
“It’s no secret that in education, we’re spending a lot of extra hours and doing a lot of stuff outside, and here’s just one more thing where the district is forcing us to do this,” Micheletti said. “Instead of using time and energy on things for our students, we’re having to devote all this time and energy over here.”
UTR’s representative council will be voting this week on whether to give the executive board the authority to call a strike once the mediation and fact-finding processes are complete. This, Zabala said, is to show the union’s seriousness.
“I think it’s a time of uncertainty, and that brings fear,” Zabala said. “But I think people are willing to put the work in.”
Sanders said the district declared an impasse to gain access to a third-party mediator and the fact-finding process, which the administration hopes will prove it has offered the most competitive salary possible.
Top Photo: Lupine Hills Elementary School teachers participate in Work to Rule Day. (Courtesy of John Zabala)
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