By Carolina Rubio
“Unity is power” read teachers’ shirts on March 14, 2014, when the president of Sweetwater Education Association, Roberto Rodriguez, authorized the association’s board of directors to go on strike unless the district proposed a fair and final offer to solve the healthcare contract dispute. Although teachers have picket-fenced outside the school during the morning, the district board has shown no reaction towards the protest; therefore, the teacher’s union has decided to take further steps towards achieving a change in their issue. The purpose of the strike is to stop subsequent violations of teachers’ contracts overall, not simply healthcare cuts, which take money from the employees’ checks. The pay cutbacks have not been the only issue for teachers, but classroom sizes have also gotten out of hand, according to teachers, and continuous budget cuts have cost some educators their jobs.
“It’s an emotional topic for me,” said history teacher Candice DeVore.
The district has currently taken away $400 to $600 dollars from staff’s healthcare salaries, going against a contract that was signed a year ago. The contract stated that teachers would receive $1,005 dollars per month, but with Brand’s new rates, the district has reduced the amount to $750 dollars per month for each member. Also, teachers argue that they have not have a raise in eight years and they were not paid for the fourlough days last year.
“The District will not, however, tolerate or acquiesce to conduct by SEA, its officers, agents, or members that is illegal, unprotected, or interferes with or disrupts the orderly delivery of education to students,” Board Superintendent Edward Brandt said.
According to Rodriguez, the SEA has the legal right to get authorization from its members to go on strike, regardless of the situation. Some teachers feel that the strike is the worst possible thing they could resort to, something that was not happened since
“Management has absolutely no authority to influence or interfere with our process; however, the attempts of the superintendent to intimidate teachers in this district is not surprising […] our members will not be silenced,” Rodriguez said.
Their warrant for striking was a ULP (unfair labor practice), which allowed them to strike without losing money. Although they had already filed a complaint with “PERB” (public employment relations board), it could have taken up to a year for a ruling on the ULP to confirm if it is a violation or not. Although this was the most tranquil way to handle the issue, teachers claimed that unless nonviolent, direct action took place, the “corruption” would have continued. Representatives and strike captains such as Gregory Raby have been taking action by keeping the staff informed. The strike was only to occur when all other negotiations failed, and can still strike with a simple majority of 51% of the union’s vote. Also, according to the San Diego Reader, Rodriguez has planned for the association to meet with parents to explain the entire issue–since some have seen picket-fencing and striking as an objectionable issue. Some teachers even feel that the strike is disappointing in the sense that they are failing their students.
“Because the parties are currently engaged in impasse mediation, it is unlawful for SEA to threaten, prepare for, or engage in strike at this time,” said Brandt. “The strike constitutes an illegal pressure tactic, and is violation of SEA’s duty to negotiate and participate in impasse resolution procedures in good faith. SEA’s actions are entirely unlawful. Unlawful attempts to involve the students and their parents, and disrupt the delivery of education will not be tolerated.”
In regards to students, a large amount of teachers at Bonita and other schools have temporarily cancelled tutoring, club advising, and the district issue has directly affected the education procedures. Even though these tutoring sessions affected students harshly, ARC tutoring is still being offered and clubs have held meetings outside of classrooms.
“A strike is our union’s last resort,” said union leader Al Ohlendorf. “We tried to get the district to bargain. I’ve been here 23 years and we’ve never had to strike before.”