The Berkeley Federation of Teachers union has announced what amounts to a work slow-down in response to Berkeley Unified School District’s latest contract proposal.
Flanked by a phalanx of red-armband-wearing teacher representatives from each of the district’s schools, a visibly angry BFT president Barry Fike told district directors and Superintendent Michele Lawrence at this week’s board meeting that beginning next week, teachers would work the exact hours called for in their contracts, but no more.
Fike called the action a “scale down,” and gave no timetable as to how long the job action would last. He said that following the district’s presentation of its latest contract proposal at a Wednesday afternoon meeting, the BFT executive committee met in executive session to reject the proposal.
In a chant delivered in unison following Fike’s presentation, teachers said the red armbands “show our anger and our passion. We want the contract to be completed so only our passion remains.”
Lawrence said, following the meeting, that because the district had not received formal notification of the BFT executive committee action, the district considers its proposal “still under consideration.” She called the union’s board presentation “a statement of their dissatisfaction, but I haven’t heard a formal rejection yet.”
Berkeley teachers have been without a contract for two years, and contract negotiations between BFT and the district are currently being held through a state-appointed mediator. Fike said that the union and the district are at an impasse over pay raises, payment for health benefits, and class sizes.
Fike also said that teachers normally work many hours outside the normal teaching day, including before and after school and weekends.
“This is the type of activity that will cease by those teachers who choose to honor our call,” he said. The union was drawing up a list of school activities that would possibly be affected by the scale down, which it would release later this week, he said.
At Wednesday night’s board presentation, Fike said it was “duplicitous, conniving, and exploitative to imply that the need to give consideration to the district’s classified employees, or the lack of state funds, keeps you from fairly compensating teachers. You ask us to come back next year after you attend to all your other spending priorities. Your call would be laughable, if it weren’t so deadly serious.”
BFT received announcements of support from BUSD’s two other employee unions. Berkeley Council of Classified Employees president Ann Graybeal said that the district’s classified employees “stand with the BFT in the action they are choosing to take; we know that they are asking for no more than their fair share.”
Business Representative Stephanie Allen of Stationary Engineers Local 39, which represents district food service workers, custodians, and bus drivers, made the most heated charge of the night, calling Superintendent Michele Lawrence by name and saying, “you have one of the most anti-union administrations in the history of the district; it’s time for you to clean up your act.”
Lawrence was low-key in her rebuttal, calling it “completely understandable that our teachers are frustrated. Teachers ought to be rewarded. But we don’t have the ability to give our employees raises as long as we have the current budget situation. The responsibility of the superintendent and the board is to ensure that the district does not go belly-up. If that is considered to be anti-union, so be it. I consider it to be pro-labor as well as pro-children when we meet our fiduciary responsibility.”
Director John Selawsky was less diplomatic, saying that the charge that the district administrative was anti-union “is a cheap, uncalled for shot. I resent that comment.”
Selawsky suggested that teachers were going after the wrong target, saying that they should “contact our local representatives and the governor and tell them that we shouldn’t lower Prop 98 funding.”
Director Joaquin Rivera said that he had either sat in on or received reports from each of the negotiating sessions with BFT, and could “assure the community that this board and this administration has approached negotiations in good faith. But we don’t have the money and you can’t negotiate what you don’t have. It troubles me that teachers haven’t had a pay raise in two years. But it troubles me more that classified employees, who are our lowest-paid workers, haven’t had a raise for longer than that.”
“It’s not like the district is pocketing money and putting it in stocks,” said Student Director Lily Dorman-Colby. “Sometimes the people who come here don’t understand that for everything we add to the budget, something has to be cut. It’s a lose-lose situation. It pains me if we can’t pay our teachers enough. But it also pains me when we have to cut programs.”