Member Blog Post from Peter Burrell

Democracy? Bill Freeman’s June 27th email to all SDEA members touts the ratification
process of the Tentative Agreement as “a powerful display of union democracy”. This
rings hollow when one looks closer to what has actually transpired. Disenfranchised
voting, one-way district supported communication, disingenuous incentives, no
preconditions for bargaining, weak initial bargaining positions and a lack of
professionally trained lead bargainer led to the TA and its subsequent approval.
Holding the elections on June 24th, 25th and 26th without any absentee voter provision
denied many of our traditional calendar colleagues away on vacation the chance to vote.
A democratic vote would make provisions for absentee ballots. Without such allowances
how can the vote be considered fair? This wasn’t a democratic process for members
unable to vote in person.

In a democracy free exchange of ideas allows for differing opinions to be aired so that
constituents can make informed decisions. SDEA leadership hasn’t sponsored social
media blogs. Blogs would allow all members the chance to be heard. Veteran teachers
could’ve had the opportunity to explain to all other members why opening the contract
was not in our best interests. Instead SDEA leadership used district emails to promote
ratification of the TA. All the while the district attempted to silence dissent by blocking
direct links to, and emails from, the BreaKfast Club bloggers. In a democracy Bill Freeman
and his supporters would encourage discussion, not silence it. They should have to
answer critics, especially by those directly affected by the tentative agreement.
Apparently Mr. Freeman sees democracy as a one-way directed line of communication,
with no allowance for differing points of view.

Mr. Freeman stated that the TA contained a substantial retirement incentive for veteran
teachers nearing retirement age. I planned to retire in the two years so I should be the one
motivated to retire early (after next year) by the “substantial” offer given to the first 300
educators who sign up. If I sign up I will lose one year for my age factor, which amounts
to approximately $400 per month. I calculated my potential retirement time by using the
longevity of my parents who lived to 80 and 88. If I lived 20 years I’d lose $71,000 (after
accepting the bonus if I was in the lucky 300) and if I lived 28 years the loss would
amount to more than $109,000. So I ask, in all fairness, how is this a substantial (using
Mr. Freeman’s words from the newscasts) retirement incentive? If I were retiring either
this year or next year at 61 then this would be bonus money. How is it an incentive for
anyone like me who will retire as scheduled? It’s not, and Mr. Freeman has
misrepresented the facts. This is a disingenuous incentive.

Collective bargaining is effective only when two parties of opposing viewpoints are
willing to compromise and make concessions. With a signed ratified contract already in
place, SDEA could have set preconditions for the opening of the contract. The extension
of pink slipped members’ healthcare benefits through the summer months could’ve been
a strong starting point for the beginning of negotiations. The bargaining team would
know upfront how serious and genuine was the district’s need for contract renegotiation.
The lead bargainer for SDEA was a teacher, not a trained contract negotiator. Our team
conceded, giving up our previously negotiated raises, without receiving district
concessions that could’ve ended the pattern of imposed layoffs by including contract
language prohibiting this tactic next year. There were no concessions on administrative,
transportation or extra-curricular expenses. Our bargaining team conceded our fairly
negotiated contract, which had already provided the district an interest free loan for the
last two years, and indefinitely postponed our raises. 1,500 teachers will return to their
classrooms with the prospect of being on the chopping block next year. Mr. Freeman and
his bargaining team would have you believe that this TA, given the circumstances, was
the best we could ask for. We gave up far more than we received and it’s likely the
funding initiatives will fail and we will take more financial hits next year.

I am thankful for the Breakfast Club founders and members. This is what true democracy
is about. Unlike Mr. Freeman’s observation here is the place where ideas and opinions
are shared regardless of your point of view.

Peter Burrell
Serra High School

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