Why opening up our contract is opening up Pandora’s box
Q. What concessions is San Diego Unified asking us for?
A. There are four things that the district is asking:
1. A continuation of the furlough days.
2. Forgoing our agreed upon raises over the next two years.
3. Taking a 6% salary cut on top of the furlough days and forgoing our raises.
4. Capping healthcare at the Kaiser rate (meaning members pay the difference in order to keep other providers).
Q. What happens if we agree to open our contract but we can’t reach a deal? Do we automatically keep the contract the way it is now?
A. No. Once we open our contract mid-term, the same rules apply as if we were in regular negotiations. That means that if we don’t reach a deal, the district can take us to impasse and then impose their last, best, final offer. That means SDEA might open our contract thinking that we will just end up extending furlough days, but then the could district impose ALL of the concessions they want on us, like it or not.
Q. Can we negotiate a side deal, but not open the whole contract?
A. Not really. It doesn’t matter what the euphemism is – “side letter” or “modification” or “narrow scope of negotiations” – you cannot do it without opening our wage article because that’s where the furlough days are (Article 7). The very act of even discussing a possible side letter about furlough days with the District is in and of itself negotiating. This was verified to the entire SDEA Board by a CTA negotiations specialist just last month. Once we engage in conversations with the District about changing current sections of the contract – which absolutely includes extending the furlough days and taking the associated pay decrease – we have opened the contract, which means they can impose. There is simply no way around it.
Q. But if the district imposes a contract on us, can’t we go on strike?
A. No. We cannot legally strike until our contract expires on June 30 of next year (2013). In normal negotiations at the end of a contract, we have leverage because we can strike if the district imposes a bad contract on us. But if we reopen parts of our contract right now before it expires, we have no real leverage because we have no “nuclear option” and the district knows it.
Q. Why does it matter if our strike is legal?
A. If we strike illegally, we give up our rights to return to our jobs. The district can hire permanent replacements for us.
Q. So to be clear: We could open our contract, the district could impose the massive healthcare and salary cuts that it wants on us unilaterally and STILL lay off teachers, and we would have no legal recourse?
Q. Would opening the contract now make future negotiations easier?
A. The opposite would be true. Remember, we’re about to negotiate our new contract next year anyway. Even if we could trust the District to negotiate with us fairly (which we can’t), if we agree to make concessions in exchange for layoffs now, what we’ll do is teach the District how to pry open every contract we ever negotiate with them from here on out: issue layoffs they don’t need and wait till we come back to the table. The result would be that year after year with no end, the same teachers would get the same layoff notices. That would become our new normal.
Q. Does opening the contract mean that all lay-off notices are going to be recalled?
A. No. The district has never stated that employee concessions will result in all lay-offs being recalled. There is absolutely no guarantee of any lay-offs being recalled if we agree to salary and benefit concessions.
Q. Can we keep the furlough days and still get the agreed upon wages over the next two years?
A. Not necessarily… If we were to open up the contract to negotiate furlough days, it would be virtually impossible to do so without opening whole wage article for negotiation. This would leave us wide open to salary cuts and changes in our working hours because the District could pursue impasse and unilaterally impose concessions on us.
Q. What is the harm in agreeing to open communication with the district?
A. The district sees this as an either or situation. Either we negotiate concessions or there will be massive layoffs. They have not offered a middle ground, nor have they guaranteed that concessions will result in a recall of all laid-off employees, or that lay-offs will offset the need for concessions. Right now they only want to talk about one thing: concessions. Do we really want to engage in this conversation?
Q. Don’t SDEA members get to vote on whether to open the contract?
A. No. Under California’s education labor law (the EERA) SDEA leadership can open the contract without member consent. However, the leadership is less likely to do so if members unite and speak out against it.
A public school employer or such representatives as it may designate who may, but need not be, subject to either certification requirements or requirements for classified employees set forth in the Education Code, shall meet and negotiate with and only with representatives of employee organizations selected as exclusive representatives of appropriate units upon request with regard to matters within the scope of representation.”
No requirement for member pre-approval. In fact, the requirement for ratification stems from SDEA bylaws only, not EERA.