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Teachers Vote to Extend Work Action By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Friday May 06, 2005

With no end in sight to either the impasse in contract negotiations or the ongoing work-to-rule action, Berkeley teachers held an hour long demonstration in front of the Berkeley Unified School Administration Building Tuesday afternoon. 

Some 300 teachers and their supporters participated, many stretching in a solid line on the west side of Martin Luther King Jr. Way from the Public Safety Building to the bail bond office across Allston Way. 

A line of children stood on the Old City Hall steps, each holding a placard with letters that collectively spelled out “FAIR CONTRACT NOW.” Demonstrators blew whistles, chanted, and waved at passing motorists with signs that ranged from “Don’t Cut My Benefits And Call It A Pay Raise,” “$3,000,000 New To BUSD And Teachers Are Supposed To Take A Pay Cut?” and “Honk For Berkeley Teachers.” Many motorists honked in support. 

If the protracted contract dispute is wearing down the will of teachers, it didn’t show during the demonstration. Demonstrators smiled, joked and chatted with each other, and appeared decidedly upbeat. 

Members of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers have been working without a new contract for two years, and contract negotiations with district representatives are currently being handled through a state-appointed mediator. 

Since late February, many teachers have been conducting a work-to-rule slowdown in the district’s schools, refusing to do any non-compensated activity past their contracted work hours. 

Meanwhile, Berkeley Federation of Teachers president Barry Fike announced that teachers’ union members voted overwhelmingly this week to continue their work-to-rule action against his recommendation. 

Fike said that 70 percent of union members voted for the job action in a survey conducted by the union’s Executive Committee. He said 17 percent voted to continue work-to-rule in modified form, and 13 percent voted to end it. 

“I was very surprised by the vote,” Fike said. “The original purpose of work-to-rule when it was started two months ago was two-pronged: to raise awareness of our contract dispute, and to apply pressure on the district. I think it has served its purpose. As soon as we started work-to-rule, there was a remarkably different attitude and preparation for the mediation talks shown by the district administration. That was the first time real dollar concessions showed up on the table. Unfortunately, work-to-rule hasn’t had enough of an impact to bring about enough concessions for a contract agreement.” 

Fike said that he thought continuation of work-to-rule “was distracting us from what we need to prepare for a possible strike,” which he said could happen in the fall if negotiations ultimately break down. 

“I argued pretty strongly to end work-to-rule,” he said, “but this is a democratic organization, and we will follow the will of our members.” 

Another mediation session between the BUSD administration and BFT representatives is scheduled for Monday. Fike said work-to-rule could be rescinded by the union if there is significant progress in that session, but if not it is likely that the action will continue through the end of the school year.›