It was a familiar sight to many on a recent Wednesday evening in front of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District offices: Teachers and parents crowded outside a Board of Education meeting, angrily shouting union slogans, waving signs and demanding increases in teacher compensation, while district negotiators and board members stared worriedly back.
The rancor between union negotiators and MDUSD’s bargaining team has been ongoing. Previous negotiations between Mt. Diablo Education Association and the district relating to compensation and furlough days have resulted in impasses between the parties. Sacramento-based Public Employment Relations Board has been forced, like an annoyed parent, to mediate the disputes again and again.
Currently, MDEA teachers are given $3,300 in compensation annually towards medical benefits (the total amounts to closer to $4,754.84, including dental and vision, according to a Contra Costa Times analysis of the benefit figures). The union’s current demand is for Kaiser single-person medical coverage to be entirely paid by the District, an amount estimated to be $7,300, as well as a 7 percent pay increase.
The District’s last and best counter-offer in the negotiations that began last April is still short $2,382.24 from the union’s demand.
Concord City Councilman Ron Leone was present at the rally. “It does impact our community, by making sure we attract – and retain – the best teachers,” he said, of the union demand.
Leone has firsthand knowledge. His daughter grew up in MDUSD schools, and having gone on to get her own teacher credential, considered working for the district. However, due to current pay scales, including the lack of health care coverage, he said, she took a position in Antioch instead.
MDEA members were joined at the rally by parents and members of other district employee unions, including Teamsters Local 856 and the Classified School Employees Association (which includes interpreters, campus supervisors, and physical education assistants).
CSEA President Annie Nolen pointed out that at least one of their employees, after paying taxes and health benefits for her family based on district benefit plans, receives no actual take-home salary.
Their union is currently in the midst of negotiations with the district as well. “If they get a 7 percent raise, we want 7 percent,” she said.
Although the parties’ numbers don’t seem far apart, the tone of negotiations may be a driver of the impasse as well.
According to MDEA President Guy Moore, the district’s last and best offer was given to the Contra Costa Times before he received it, despite district assurances that off-the-record negotiations would remain confidential.
“There is deep distrust in the district towards management,” he said. “They run the organization like there’s a time warp, a 1940s management versus labor organization.”
District counsel Deb Cooksey, however, insisted at the most recent board meeting that the negotiators have been acting in good faith, and that prior to publicizing the District’s most recent offer, the information was transmitted to MDEA Executive Director Mark York.
Remarkably, in spite of the rhetoric and the remaining gap in numbers , the district agrees with its teachers – and other employees seeking further coverage of benefits – that an increase in compensation is in order.
“There are a lot of people in this district that can’t afford to work here, “said Cooksey at the meeting. “The question is, we have to figure out what to do with all that money that benefits all the groups.”
Newly-hired District Superintendent Dr. Nellie Meyer summarized the parties’ positions, characterizing the conflict as resulting from impatience on both sides.
”I don’t think it’s ill will on anyone’s part,” she said. “Just a decision to fix things.”