School workers pass on contract

by George Wiley

Redondo Beach classified school employees, close to half the employees in the district, have turned down a contract settlement tentatively approved by their union.

The thumbs down on the proposed settlement appeared to shock the school district and to surprise representatives of the California School Employees Association (CSEA) who placed a tentative agreement before the union members for a vote.

As matters stand now both the CSEA and the Redondo Beach Unified School District (RBUSD) have asked a state mediator to return to see if an acceptable agreement can be reached in the drawn out negotiations over renewal of a contract that expired last July 1.

In the meantime, the classified employees-ranging from cooks to school aides to secretaries to maintenance men will continue to work under the terms of the expired contract.

"Our first and continued response is surprise and disappointment that a contract that was agreed to by both parties was voted down by the membership, and that our offer of assistance to CSEA has gone unanswered," said Anita "Chris" Chavez, the chief negotiator for the school district. "My hope is that we get this settled."

But according to maintenance electrician Robert Hadley, president of Chapter 57 of the CSEA, and a lead negotiator for the union, a quick settlement does not appear to be on the horizon.

"We gave our members the pep talk (on the tentative agreement), but the membership was hostile to this administration," Hadley said.

He said the union members intend to go to the next school board meeting on Mar. 14 to plead their case directly to the board. If that fails to result in a revised school district offer, Hadley said, the CSEA members might begin "going door-to-door in the community and telling parents we've got a problem with the schools."

Both Chavez and Hadley agree that a tentative agreement was reached. Both agree roughly on the terms of that contract. Both seem to agree on the hot-button issues that may have prompted CSEA members to turn the tentative agreement down.

According to CSEA representative Travers Devine, anger and a lack of morale among classified employees probably caused workers to turn down the contract.

"There is definitely a feeling of alienation. I think there's a very poor working relationship between the union and management. There has been a change in that district's leadership. The classified employees don't feel respected, and there's a feeling they aren't part of the family like they used to be. That's a pretty widespread feeling."

Hadley said the district kept saying throughout negotiations that it had "money problems." Hadley said the CSEA now has no confidence in the district's ability to "manage money."

According to both Chavez and Hadley, the basic terms of the tentative agreement included a 2.6 percent salary hike retroactive to Jan. 1.

Hadley said the CSEA had originally asked for a 3.2 percent raise.

One thing that may have angered CSEA members, Hadley added, was that the school district offered to make the 2.6 percent increase retroactive to Jan. 1. Hadley agreed with Chavez that the January date was the same date teachers were given retroactively in their agreement. But Hadley said retroactivity to July 1 was important to the CSEA workers. "The teachers come back in September so they don't lose anything over the summer," he said, "but we work during the summer, so we're losing the whole six months."

Another sticking point in the negotiations, said Hadley, was that the district originally offered the CSEA the ability to keep health benefits for any worker retiring early. The workers would have to pay for the benefits, but would have been able to do so at the rate paid by the district.

But the inflections concerning the tentative agreement's lack of ratification are far different on the two sides. According to Chavez only a small portion of the CSEA members showed up to vote on the contract. The district has offered to give classified employees a site to use during a lunch break for CSEA employees to come for a "re-balloting" on the tentative agreement.

Hadley said the district's plea for a re-vote is "basically an unfair labor practice. They want to administrate the vote for us."

The outside mediator who helped both sides come up with the tentative agreement has once again been called in. ER