By Theresa Harrington
Some Mt. Diablo school district union members are just today learning about a press release dated June 15 (Tuesday), which details the district’s stance regarding layoffs, budget cuts and negotiations. Employees from two unions protested about these issues before the Tuesday school board meeting.
Although I am on the district’s mailing list for press releases, it was never emailed or faxed to me. Instead, Deb Cooksey, the district’s lead negotiator, handed it to me after the board meeting when I introduced myself to her.
She said in a voicemail message today that she had also placed it on the counter in the district office lobby. After she learned the meeting would take place at Monte Gardens Elementary next door, Cooksey said she “put it out there for the public to take, but I understand no one took it.”
Many people who were at the meeting say they never saw the press release. Cooksey said it wasn’t posted on the district’s website until Wednesday — the day after the meeting.
“We just put it on the website on the 16th,” she said in her voicemail message, “because we wanted to make sure we had a chance to get it out before we posted it on the website.”
El Dorado Middle School teacher Becka Machado said the district would have had a better chance of getting the press release out to the public if it was posted Tuesday. She attended the meeting and said she saw agendas on a table, but didn’t see the press release.
“Where else would the public see it other than online?” Machado said. “It just seems so strange. It was disturbing that the information wasn’t reaching the people who it was affecting.”
Annie Nolen, vice president of the California Employees Association, or CSEA, said she didn’t see the press release until today. It is now prominently displayed on the district’s website.
Here’s what it says:
“June 15, 2010 Press Release
*** MDUSD PRESS RELEASE ***
BUDGET DEFICIT FORCES MORE LAYOFFS AT MT. DIABLO USD
June 15, 2010
Tonight the Board of the Mt. Diablo Unified School District will vote on whether to reduce hours and/or eliminate positions of CSEA unit members. In a time of unprecedented budget deficits throughout the state, our district like many others, is forced into the untenable position of making drastic reductions in staff and services. Because the District must present a balanced budget to the County Office of Education by June 30th and has been unable to reach an agreement with unions on over $11.9 M in cuts, tonight the Superintendent will also recommend additional reductions to Local One CST and M&O positions. The Board will vote on the Local One reductions or eliminations at the June 22nd meeting.
The District’s deficit is projected to average nearly $13 million per year for the next three years. The current deficit for 2009/10 is approximately $24.8 million. As our deficit increases, our revenues continue to decline. For instance, while the budget for 2009/10 is $279.5 million, for 2010/11 it is only projected to be $264.4 million—a difference of $15.1 million.
We have already responded to the budget deficit by implementing staff reductions and non-personnel cuts and making one-time sweeps and transfers of $15.88 million. We also sought to negotiate the following items with all bargaining units:
· Reduce the current and the next three school years through furlough days ($7.9M)
· Limit the District’s contribution to health, vision, and dental costs to current rates for active employees and future retirees ($8.9M over 3 years)
· Prorate health benefits for part-time employees ($7.3M over 3 years)
· Eliminate vacation buyouts ($2.1M over 3 years)
The cost of health, dental, and vision benefits is the largest single cost item contributing to the deficit. The current cost of health benefits for all active employees is $21,999,748. Our projected health benefits cost for 2010/11 if we cannot negotiate a cap on health benefits will be $23,027,792 and will escalate to $27,224,287 over the next three years.
Currently, we fully fund (at a rate equal to each tier of the Kaiser coverage) medical benefits for all employees who work at least 20 hours per week. We also fund 100% of the cost of vision, and dental benefits for all employees who work at least 20 hours per week. For classified retirees, we cover the cost of benefits at the Kaiser single rate if the employee retires at 55 or older up until the age of 65. For teachers, managers, and psychologists, the District reimburses the cost of medical benefits for the employee plus one eligible dependent for a maximum of 10 years or until the retiree reaches age 65, which ever comes first.
After months of negotiations with our classified bargaining units, we are now at impasse. Additional bargaining sessions would not be productive without the intervention of an outside mediator because neither party side is willing to change its position. The major points of contention center on the District’s proposal of: (a) a hard cap at current rates on benefits for active employees and retirees; (b) proration of benefits for employees and their dependents; and (c) furlough days for the 2009/10 school year and future years. It is important to note that our proposed cap on health care is not to “cut” health benefits but rather to “freeze” the District’s contribution at the current rate.
Classified unions initially agreed to a limited number of furlough days during the current school year on the express condition that other employees, including teachers and administrators, agree to an equivalent number of days. If all unions had agreed to 3-4 furlough days for 2009/10, the costs savings would have totaled $2.6M. District administrators have been voluntarily taking furlough days since March 2010, which has resulted in $292,859 in savings for the 2009/10 school year. The teachers union would not bargain this fiscal year over furlough days for 2009/10 or a new contract to replace the one that expires on June 30, 2010.
Our position at all bargaining tables has remained consistent: we must reduce the deficit in an amount equivalent to savings to be realized from furlough days, and hard capping and pro-rating benefits. Anything less, will result in an unbalanced budget in 2010/11 and beyond and a possible state takeover. If there is a takeover and appointment of a State Administrator, your elected representatives (the Board) and by extension you, will have no say in running the District. We informed the unions’ bargaining teams that failure to reach agreement on furlough days for next year could result in the cuts to Local One positions that are now being proposed. Those reductions will result in some employees being ineligible for health benefits. The District’s proposal on furlough days would not have negatively impact health benefits.
Our employees are understandably distressed over the proposed furlough days, medical cap, and prorated benefits. The Board and District leadership are disturbed at having to demand such steep concessions. However, we are no different from other districts, many of which have already negotiated a reduced work year in some form or another. According to a School Services of California survey, 57 school districts throughout the state have negotiated work year reductions this year and 99 districts have negotiated work year reductions for next year. Many districts, including those in the surrounding area already cap medical benefits. For instance:
2009 – 2010
2010 – 2011
Hard Cap on Benefits
Acalanes – 5 days – 2010/11
Antioch – Tiered Monthly Caps: $ 795 Single; $950 Two-party; $1,000 Family
Brentwood – 2 days Kaiser rate (Employee only)
Byron – 5 days – Tiered Monthly Caps: $444 Single; $888 Two-party; $1,154 Family
LAUSD – 4 days – 2009-10
Pleasanton – 3 days 2009-10; 5 days 2010-11
Alameda – 5 days 2010-11
Livermore – 3-5 days 2009-10
Lodi – 5 days 2009-10; 7.5 days 2010-11
Oakley – 3 days 2009-10; 3 days 2010-11; $637 or $547 per month, depending on bargaining unit
Piedmont – 5 days 2010-11
San Leandro – 3 days 2010-11
San Lorenzo – 3-4 days 2009-10
West Contra Costa – 5 days 2010-11; Hard cap at each tier
Our classified unions have accused the District of being inflexible because we have not changed our position on benefits and furlough days even though the union has made concessions. We have not artificially inflated our proposal or the deficit and we have proposed only those concessions we need to eliminate the deficit. It is true that we could have engaged in the traditional bargaining tactic of making an extreme initial demand (such as insisting on a hard cap at the Kaiser single rate and freezing step increases), in order to have something to concede at the bargaining table. We decided against that tactic because it would: (a) cause even greater upset if we let employees believe their families would lose coverage; (b) be disingenuous; and (c) be a waste of valuable bargaining time.
This is a precarious and unprecedented fiscal environment and we appreciate that everyone is anxious about the future. We will maintain our practice of transparency during the bargaining process by continuing to provide the unions and the public with information on the state budget, the District’s budget, and health benefits costs as it becomes available.
 This amount does not include vision and dental costs or retiree health benefits. Between 2002 and 2010, medical premiums fluctuated from as much as 17% to as little as 4%. Disregarding the extremes of 17% and 4%, the average rate increase is 10%. Therefore the District estimates a 10% annual increase in the cost of medical benefits.”
Nolen takes issue with several items in the press release. She said her union is willing to take furlough days, but can’t unless the teachers’ union does also. This is because CSEA employees only work on school days and Nolen said they can’t take a day off when school is in session, because they’re needed.
They could only take furlough days, however, if teachers agree to take furlough days and shorten the school year. But, teachers don’t intend to come to the negotiating table until September, union president Michael Langley has told me.
Nolen also wants to clarify that CSEA has “left money on the table” in the past to help pay for benefits. So, she disputes the district’s claim that it fully funds medical benefits.
The union didn’t take its full Cost Of Living (or COLA) increases in salary because it wanted that extra money to be used to fund benefits, she said.
“For years and years and years, we have left money on the table for our benefits, for our longevity,” she said.
She’s also bothered by the press release’s assertion that the district has bargained for “months.”
“We bargained 10 hours,” Nolen said.
Although Nolen is on the bargaining team, she said she doesn’t remember any discussions regarding a hard benefits cap for active employees and retirees.
“We’re part-time, so it’s a cut for us,” she said. “Our people work six hours (a day) or less.”
Nolen said she doesn’t think it’s fair to compare the Mt. Diablo district to other districts on the “for instance” list in the press release, because some are much smaller and others are much larger than Mt. Diablo.
“Mt. Diablo is one of the largest in the state and you’re going to compare us to Byron?” she said.
Although Nolen conceded that CSEA has agreed to jointly file a declaration of impasse, she said the union didn’t initially agree to that at the table. Union reps wanted to continue bargaining.
But after the district stated that it would declare impasse, the union consulted with its attorney and reluctantly agreed to the joint declaration, Nolen said.
Nolen said she’s surprised the district didn’t provide the press release to her before the meeting.
“With something like this, I would have thought they would,” she said. “Maybe they just didn’t want us to talk about this.”
Union members had plenty to say that day. Here are three videos of protesters before the meeting: http://qik.com/video/7790261, http://qik.com/video/7790799 and http://qik.com/video/7791099.
During the meeting, union representatives expressed their concerns about the budget cuts. Here’s a portion of a CSEA rep’s comments: http://qik.com/video/7799654.
Cooksey also spoke at the meeting. I didn’t get video of her, since I wasn’t aware she’d speak during the superintendent’s report.
She said the district asked only for what it needed at the bargaining table.
“We didn’t start at an artificially high offering in order just to back down to get to something else at the bargaining table,” she said.
She admitted the district only bargained for 10 hours with CSEA and said the district bargained with the Clerical, Secretarial and Technical (or CST) unit of Local 1 for approximately 60 hours, reaching several tentative agreements.
The district bargained with the Maintenance and Operations (or M&O) unit for more than 90 hours, she said.
“We are definitely at impasse,” Cooksey said. “They have a position that they cannot change. We have a position that we cannot change. The only way that’s going to get resolved is for a third party to come in.”
The next day, Cooksey told me the CST and M&O units bargain salaries and benefits as a coaliton.
“That’s when the talks broke down,” she said.
The district filed its declaration of impasse for Local 1 last week and is waiting to hear back from the Public Employment Relations Board (or PERB) to find out if it will certify and impasse and appoint a mediator, Cooksey said.
Since CSEA has agreed to file a joint declaration of impasse, the district doesn’t need to get PERB to certify it, she added.
“They assign you a mediator,” she said. “With Local 1, they make a dermination. Then, they assign a mediator.”
How do you think the district and unions should resolve their differences? Do you think the district should have posted the press release on its website and distributed it to the press and to union leaders before the Tuesday meeting?
JUNE 18 UPDATE: Local 1 Maintenance and Operations union President Ron Hansen and CST President Judy Armstrong told me today that they and other members of their unions first became aware of the press release yesterday (Thursday, June 17). Armstrong said union members plan to rally again outside the Tuesday, June 22 board meeting.
“This is not going good,” Armstrong said.
Cooksey told me today she didn’t know she was supposed to e-mail or fax the press release to the media. She said she thought union members would see it when they marched through the district office.
“I’m new and I don’t necessarily know the system,” said Cooksey, who was appointed associate general counsel Jan. 26. “When protesters were coming into the building, I left it on the counter and I left it in the board room…I’m learning.”
I also asked Gail Isserman, assistant superintendent for personnel services, why there was no mention of the “updated” attachment to the agenda regarding classified layoffs.
“We had the docket and the resolution on Friday (when the agenda was posted), but we needed to go through the positions and identify the people, so that was added Monday,” she said. “I’m not sure why we didn’t state that it was revised, but it was on the website. I’m sorry that didn’t happen.”