The Berkeley Unified School District took an enormous bite out of its union problems last Tuesday, reaching tentative agreements with its teachers, bus drivers, custodians, instructional assistants and office workers.
Members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, Stationary Engineers Local 39, and the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees have to vote on ratification of the contracts, and, if approved, the contracts must be certified by the Alameda County Office of Education to ensure that the district can actually meet the promised fiscal obligations.
Contract negotiations are still ongoing with the unions representing BUSD’s administrators and managers and supervisors.
The teacher contract dispute had gotten the bulk of public attention over the past few months, with several BFT-sponsored rallies held on the Old City Hall grounds during School Board meetings and with many teachers holding a “work-to-rule” action throughout the schools in which they refused to provide volunteer work past their contracted eight-hour days. Berkeley teachers have been working without a new contract for two years.
The new contract, if ratified, will extend through the 2007-08 school year. BFT and district representatives reportedly held at least one 24-hour session over the weekend to reach the tentative agreement.
BUSD representatives would not disclose details of the tentative agreement. But Thursday afternoon, shortly before teachers assembled at the Berkeley Community Theater to begin voting on the proposed contract, the teachers’ union released a summary of what they called the “key features” of the contract, which include:
• A 1.04 percent across-the-board salary increase in 2005-06.
• A limit on increases in health care co-payments in 2005-06.
• A “fair share” revenue sharing formula for 2006-07 and 2007-08 during which teacher pay and benefits will rise if new revenue is received by the district.
• A cap on health care benefits for 2006-07 through 2007-08.
• Maximum class sizes at all grade levels, and BSEP Measure B staffing ratios written as part of contracts for all classes.
In a telephone interview, Berkeley Federation of Teachers President Barry Fike credited the union’s direct-action tactics and “parents who pushed both sides to negotiate an agreement rather than taking this to a strike” for ultimately pushing through the tentative contract agreement.
“The settlement reflects tight financial times at both the state and local levels,” Fike said, “and is consistent with the union’s position all along that we’d only ask for our fair share.”
Saying that “we are relieved that we have a contract,” Fike said that he did not envision any further negotiations if BFT members turn it down. “I’m informing teachers that they should either vote to approve the tentative contract or be prepared for a strike.”
He said that the union’s negotiating team was recommending member approval of the proposed contract, but that because of the short period between the signing of the tentative agreement and beginning of the teacher ratification vote, on Thursday, BFT’s Executive Committee was not able to formally meet to make a recommendation.
In the contract disputes among the district’s bus drivers and custodians there was some lingering confusion and bitterness.
Several custodians came out to Wednesday night’s BUSD board meeting apparently prepared to make presentations but left en masse shortly before the meeting began without explaining what they had come to say. One Local 39 member would only say that the custodians had left “because our leaders aren’t out here.”
Mary Alice Pride, identifying herself as a district bus driver, spoke during the board’s public comment period, complaining that recent district announcements of possible bus stop eliminations and zoning changes “ultimately will eliminate bus drivers and eliminate bus service for some children. We think that budget cuts can be made in other areas.”
Pride also complained that the district was hiring new bus drivers at the lowest pay scale while handing out layoff notice to higher-paid drivers who had been with the district for years.
All of the district’s bus drivers had recently received layoff notices.
“The buses will roll next year, and all eligible children will ride,” said BUSD Board President Nancy Riddle. “We may consolidate some bus stops, and we may stagger some of the bell times to make the routes more efficient. This is just a case of anxious employees misunderstanding the situation.”
Riddle said that the layoff notices were necessary by law “whenever there is even a slight modification in the work schedules,” but added that “no driver will lose their job.”
Superintendent Michelle Lawrence also assured the district’s bus drivers that their jobs were not in jeopardy.
Representatives of Stationary Engineers Local 39 and the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees were not available for comment for this story.
Despite the still-lingering contract controversies, Lawrence praised union and district negotiators for “making it through this incredibly difficult time” and stating that “maybe this means we’ll end the school year on a good note.”