Berkeley Classified Employees Get Pay Raise But Disagree on Contract

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Wednesday December 10, 2008 - 06:34:00 PM

The Berkeley Council of Classified Employees members have received a pay hike from the Berkeley Unified School District but have yet to reach an agreement over their contract, union President Paula Phillips said last week. 

More than 150 classified district employees, frustrated at the lack of progress in negotiations with the district, rallied at the district’s headquarters at Old City Hall in September, demanding a cost-of-living increase to keep up with rising food and housing prices. 

District officials defended the delay by pointing to the belated release of the state budget by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

Phillips said that the district agreed to raise the union’s Cost of Living Adjustment by 1 percent, an amount that will kick in beginning Nov. 1. 

Classified employees, which do not include teachers, will receive a 4.32 percent increase for the 2007–08 school year and a 1 percent increase for the 2008–09 school year, union officials said. 

“We’ve reached an agreement on a cost-of-living adjustment for our members, whose wages have remained frozen since the 2006–07 school year,” Phillips said. “Our members voted overwhelmingly to accept the offer in October. Unfortunately, the district has chosen to hold up ratification of our contract ... As a result our members continue to work without a contract.” 

Berkeley Board of Education President John Selawsky said one area of contention remaining is how union members who were overpaid by mistake would repay the district. “We [the district and BCCE] have not come to an agreement over overpayment and repayment of errors,” he said. “That’s not necessarily a contractual issue.” 

Phillips said that the union had not signed off on the new contract because it did not agree with language about overpayment. 

“If the district overpays our member by $500 and our member only makes $500, it takes the whole check away from them,” she said. “The current language gives the district the right to take wages away from our members without notifying them, even though there is language in our contract that states that the district must notify employees before doing this. The problem is the district doesn’t notify employees all the time.” 

Phillips said the union had filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state against the district over this issue. Selawsky said that the current contractual provisions on overpayment were not much different from those in other school districts. 

Lisa Udell, the district’s assistant superintendent of human resources, said that Berkeley Unified and BCCE were at an impasse over their contract negotiations and were working with a mediator to resolve outstanding concerns. “There is one article in the contract they wish to discontinue,” Udell said. “We hope to reach a positive resolution soon.” 

“I spoke with one of our members today who unfortunately received an overpayment during the month of October,” Phillips said. “The district did not issue a pay warrant for this member nor did it notify him that he would not be receiving a check in November. It is for this very reason that we want the language in our contract removed.” 


Teacher contracts 

While Berkeley Unified has reached an agreement with International Union of Operating Engineers Local 39, the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers Local 21 and the Union of Berkeley Administrators over their contracts, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers is still waiting for the district to renew its contract. 

Dozens of teachers rallied outside their schools in October to demand that the district, among other things, adopt a revenue-sharing formula, which would ensure that when the district receives a revenue boost, teachers would be given their fair share.  

BFT President Cathy Campbell said that the union was in negotiations with the district and it was likely that a contract would not be approved until February.