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Local 1 ousted from Berkeley schools

By David Scharfenberg, Daily Planet staff
Wednesday June 05, 2002

Poor service prompted the change after 40 or so years 



Berkeley Unified School District clerical and paraprofessional employees have voted to change their union representation, dropping Martinez-based Local 1 in favor of the Council of Classified Employees, which is affiliated with the AFL-CIO and the American Federation of Teachers. 

Last month operations employees voted 70-42 to dump Local 1 in favor of AFL-CIO affiliated Local 39 in San Francisco. This week’s vote erases any Local 1 presence in Berkeley Unified, bringing an end to some 40 years of representation.  

“We’re disappointed in the outcome, and we wish the employees well,” said Charles Egbert, general manager for Local 1. 

CCE leaders said they won because members were sick of poor service and unreturned phone calls. Local 1 leaders said service has been strong and pointed to low voter turnout, suggesting that the tally did not truly represent the membership’s views.  

About half of the members of the paraprofessional “unit” of Local 1, which includes instructional assistants and librarians, cast ballots — voting 77-46 to bring in CCE. Fifty-one of 84 eligible voters in the clerical unit, which includes secretaries and office staff, cast ballots. Twenty-seven selected CCE, 22 voted for Local 1 and two ballots were void. 

“We’re really, really excited,” said Frank Oppedisano, CCE organizer. “The people have spoken. They wanted a change, and fortunately we were there to give it to them.” 

But Local 1 officials say they have concerns about a new leadership slate. The current contract is scheduled to expire at the end of June and they say new negotiators will not have the proper experience to deal with the district. 

“They will be starting from scratch,” said Barbara Singleton, a special education instructional assistant and president of the Local 1 paraprofessional unit. “They will have no knowledge of the district and I’m afraid the district will take advantage.” 

But Oppedisano said the new leadership drawn from the employees’ ranks will have years of experience in the district. Barry Fike, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, has also offered to help. And the CCE staffers who will take part have been negotiating contracts for years, Oppedisano added. 

“It’s not their first rodeo,” he said. 

Singleton said she was surprised by the vote. 

“I hadn’t prepared myself for a loss,” she said. Singleton noted that teachers often file complaints against instructional assistants and said she was startled that assistants would vote for a union with ties to the American Federation of Teachers. 

“This local is not going to be underneath the teachers,” replied Oppedisano. 

Oppedisano said service was the biggest issue in the campaign. 

“That’s originally why we came in here,” he said. “They weren’t getting the basic services they needed.” 

“I don’t think that’s been true the last couple of years, but that’s the perception,” replied Egbert. 

Local 1 leadership in Berkeley Unified is divided between district employees who serve as unit presidents and business agents in the Martinez office. 

Rick Spaid, president of the clerical unit, said the employee leadership has been strong, but argued that the Martinez office has not provided adequate service. 

“Those of us in the leadership have had our own frustrations with the leadership in Martinez,” said Spaid. “I said, ‘If we lose, it’s all on you.’” 

But Spaid was critical of CCE for “raiding” an independent union like Local 1 rather than organizing the unorganized. 

“Union membership is dwindling nationwide,” he said. “There’s a whole lot of people who need desperately to be represented.” 

“Our main interest is in providing service to classified employees,” responded Oppedisano. “When you have an independent union like Local 1...and they’re doing a subpar job of representing their classifieds, while at the same time making sure their dues are collected, it’s the employees’ right and job to get better representation.” 

“I was pleased with the outcome,” said Berkeley High School instructional assistant Walter Mitchell, who voted for CCE. “Now we can focus on the business at hand.”