UPDATE: Nov. 15, 4:40 p.m. West Sonoma County Teacher’s Association won its strike against the West Sonoma County Union High School District, bringing home the 12% increase over three years, they'd been asking for for months. Details HERE.
UPDATE: Nov. 15, 9 a.m. The district called the teachers back to the bargaining table this morning.
More than 100 high school teachers and their supporters hit the picket lines Wednesday morning, Nov. 13, in front of Analy, El Molino and Laguna High Schools.
On the eve of the strike, union president Lily Smedshammer announced that the union had “received word the district wants to return to the bargaining table. We’re hopeful West Sonoma County Teacher’s Association will receive an offer that is more in line with the recommendations of the neutral factfinder’s report.”
After more than four hours of bargaining on Tuesday afternoon, the school district offered the 12% increase the union had been hoping for — however the increase was tied to the two groups working together to pass a parcel tax.
“This afternoon, the West Sonoma County Union High School District brought a proposal to the bargaining table that could ultimately meet some of the demands from our teachers union and avoid a work stoppage,” Superintendent Toni Beal wrote in a statement to Sonoma West. “The proposal called for the district and teachers to work collaboratively in our community to advocate for a new parcel tax. The district believes this was a good faith effort to support our students and teachers and move forward as a unified group.”
The union rejected the district’s proposal for two reasons: because it did not ensure the continuance of the seventh period (the disappearance of which would cost eight teachers their jobs) and because it was dependent on the passage of a parcel tax.
“What is heartening about that negotiation session is this: it was the first time that we had an honest, back and forth, trade of ideas,” union president Lily Smedshammer said on the picket line Wednesday morning. “In every single negotiation session before this, the association has come with an offer and the district has countered with a hard line, ‘This is the best we can do’ kind of offer that forced us away from the table. But yesterday we had a real discussion. So that was a positive movement. There were some creative solutions that were thrown around. The problem was we can't accept a pay raise — that should have been added to our salary schedule — but is instead contingent on a voter parcel tax.”
The WSCTA went on strike on Wednesday morning to pressure the district to meet the union’s demand for a 12% salary increase over the next three years, with no diminution in health or retirement benefits.
The strike comes in the aftermath of a report from a neutral fact-finder for the Public Employees Relations Board, who recommended that the district grant the 12% salary increase, which the district said it can’t afford. The fact-finder also suggested a reduction in the teachers’ health and retirement benefits. (See last week’s article, “Teachers start countdown to strike,” for an in-depth discussion of the fact finder’s report.)
The fact-finder also offered an alternative, suggesting that the district grant a retroactive increase of 4% for the 2018-19 school year and that at the two parties return to the bargaining table. The district embraced this alternative in its response to the fact-finding report, but according to union reps, never made any proposals based on it during negotiations last week. As for the union, a union rep dismissed the one-year contract idea as "absurd."
In a letter to parents on Friday, Nov. 8, WSCUHSD Superintendent Toni Beal assured families that the district had hired substitute teachers and that school would continue throughout the strike.
“All of our high schools will be open throughout the strike,” she wrote in the letter. “The district has hired substitute teachers and will maintain safe and orderly campuses for our students. We will be providing enriching educational programs for all students during the strike. Food service and regular transportation services will continue through the strike.”
Another offer from the district
In a statement last night, Beal said that an earlier offer the district had made last week was also still on the table. This offer included a 6% salary increase over three years:
• 1% salary increase for 2018-19;
• 3% salary increase for 2019-20;
• 2% salary increase for 2020-21.
This offer included a lower hard cap of $19,500 on yearly medical benefits, beginning on Oct. 1, 2020.
In her letter to parents, Beal wrote that the district’s new offer would cost the $1.6 million over three years. She wrote that the union’s demand for a 12% raise over three years would cost the district $3.2 million over three years — money she said the district simply doesn’t have.
The teachers union said the letter contained “significant errors.”
“A 6% raise does not cost $1.6 million — not even close,” Analy math teacher and chief union negotiator Brian Miller wrote in response. “The district’s own number for the cost of a 1% raise is $86,469. Meaning a 6% raise will cost approximately $518,814, nowhere near $1.6 million. The 12% offer that the neutral fact-finder recommended does not cost $3.2 million. A 12% raise costs approximately $1,037,628.”
According to CBO Mary Schafer, the correct amount for salary and benefits is closer to $100,000 a year and those raises compound over time, yielding the higher number. (See the chart in this is article at sonomawest.com for Schaefer’s full breakdown of these alternative proposals.)
And out come the lawyers…
In preparation for the strike, WSCUHSD attorney Paul Boylan filed two injunctions on behalf of the school district against the teachers union on Friday, Nov. 8.
One injunction sought to prevent teachers in the district’s special education consortium (who, though they teach K-12, are employed by the high school) from joining the strike.
The other sought to force the union to abide by common principles of picketing, namely that they avoid “blocking vehicle and pedestrian traffic in and out of school grounds, entering/trespassing on school property, harassing parents, students, employees and temporary employees who were not honoring the picket line” or otherwise disrupting school and district operations.
Boylan said he withdrew his request for the injunctions when the district told him it had acquired a full complement of substitutes for the special education classes.
Smedshammer was particularly offended by the request of an injunction to enforce picketing decorum.
“We are caring educational professionals who want to maintain the safety of our students and campus,” she said. “We’d never encourage or participate in any sort of aggressive action that would lead to anyone feeling unsafe.”