Public Comment

What Total Compensation Is and What It Is Not

By Tim Donnelly
Thursday June 05, 2008 - 10:07:00 AM

There was a time in the misty, not-too-distant past, when Sacramento’s Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA ) was passed along directly to their Teachers and Classified Staff. No More. 

In the Berkeley Unified School District, our Human Resources newsletter annually features a condescending little paragraph about how the COLA is not really for the living: “...but must also meet the increased prices of bus fuel, textbooks, light bulbs, etc....” Perhaps they are confusing the Cost of Doing Business Adjustment (CODOBA)? Among management prerogatives is not the power to bestow life upon light bulbs, textbooks, gasoline. 

We are the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, representing 450 employees of the Berkeley Unified School district, the Office/Technical and Classroom Support units. To break it down further, we are: secretaries, accountants, instructional assistants, instructional technicians, program specialists, parent liaisons, interpreters for the deaf, library media technicians, computer specialists, and a dozen other jobs which may be harder to describe. We are essential, living components of this district. And we are negotiating a new contract. 

We believe our objectives are reasonable: 


Paycheck integrity 

Our (expired) contract stipulates that: 

A payroll overpayment shall be repaid to the district over the same period of time the error occurred unless other arrangements are made with the director of classified personnel or designee. (CBA 9.10.3) 

This passage wreaks havoc with our members, who may take on extra duties, change health plans, or make other changes, only to find later that they’ve been overpaid for months. We believe this passage to be in violation of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

Our sister classified union, IUOE Local 39, has contract language that requires the district negotiate repayment on an individual basis. This has the desirable side effect of requiring the district to explain and prove the error(s). 


Orientation for new hires 

Classifieds speak with one voice here: the Berkeley district is a complex, not to say labyrinthine, work environment. Why aren’t we educated about these complexities for an hour or two before we’re plopped into position? 


More training 

This district relies a great deal on classified staff, yet our inservice training days have typically consisted of pep talks from motivational speakers who have no idea what we do, and brainstorming sessions that render great ideas which are never implemented. For example: “We could include our paraprofessionals in team meetings!” 



Among the “reforms” to Worker’s Compensation pushed through by Gov. Schwarzenegger, only one was of benefit to workers—the ability to predesignate one’s personal physician in the event of a work injury. The district is insisting that predesignation forms will only be accepted during the annual six-week open enrollment period; and that these forms must be re-submitted every year. We believe this burdensome policy violates the spirit, if not the letter, of the law. 

We have not had a salary offer yet from the district for the 2007-2008 school year. This is distressing. 


Further, the district want us to agree to a definition of total compensation that burdens the union with obligations that properly belong to the district. These are, specifically; retiree benefits, step movement, and new costs under the old caps. 


Retiree benefits 

BCCE does not represent retirees. We do not bargain for retirees. The district is responsible for the cost of retiree benefits. 


Step movement 

In the first five years of employment, we are compensated for our growing expertise by “steps” up in salary. This is mandated by the district’s Merit Rules. By this nefarious logic, we are charged for those members in their first five years of employment, as well as those in promotional positions. To take the cost of this from BCCE’s annual salary adjustment is to make us responsible for the district’s poor retention of employees. 


New costs under old caps 

When we negotiated a cap of $880 for the 2006-2007 school year, we paid for it out of our total compensation. If my premium this year increases from $600 a month to $700 a month, I still pay nothing. The district pays $100 more. That’s already been agreed to. That’s already been bargained. 

We understand that these are legitimate costs that the district must meet. But we can not agree that they’re part of our compensation. These are prior agreements for which the district is liable. 

BCCE refused, in May of 2007, to sign an agreement that called these district costs part of our increase. The board agenda claimed and the Daily Planet reported “an increase of 4.7 percent in salary and benefits.” 

Our salary increase was 4 percent. The .7 percent consisted of these costs which were the proper responsibility of the district. These costs remain the proper responsibility of the district and we will never agree otherwise. 

We know that this year’s salary increase, like last year’s and next year’s, will be subsumed by increases in health and dental premiums. Such is the fate of the disappearing middle class. In this light, we feel deeply that the district should be making non-financial concessions, particularly those that make us more valuable and valued employees. We are confident that the Berkeley community will see the reasonableness of our position. 


Tim Donnelly is president of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees. For more information or to read BCCE’s contract, go to