By Theresa Harrington
After my print publication deadline yesterday, the Mt. Diablo school district’s assistant superintendent for personnel told me the district will not bring any layoffs or other job reductions to the board before January. This is a departure from staff’s original recommendation to implement job cuts by Nov. 30.
“We’ve basically deferred taking any action at this time,” Julie Braun-Martin said. “We will be looking at the January budget status and seeing where we are at that point.”
She also cleared up some confusion about the health benefits cap that district managers have accepted.
“What’s been discussed is that people will be sustained at the Kaiser rate,” she said. “We haven’t talked about the term.”
Some blog posters have alleged that managers were under the impression their cap would last three years. Unions have been asked to accept a lifetime health benefits cap, which could be renegotiated.
I also noticed that the district only posted the top portion of Superintendent Steven Lawrence’s latest memo online — promoting the Fifth Annual Day at the Races — but left off the part about holding onto the federal jobs money and signing the solar contract (no longer shining the spotlight on solar?).
Union reps I spoke to yesterday said they think the district should use the federal jobs money for its intended purpose — saving jobs.
“We want to remain optimistic that we can get something done, but time will tell,” said Larry Edgington, Local 1 general manager, who represents many employees slated for layoffs and hours reductions. “The negotiations are difficult.”
The Maintenance and Operations unit is in mediation and the Clerical, Secretarial and Technical unit is still at the bargaining table, he said.
“They’ve gotten some additional monies,” Edgington said. “I think that on balance perhaps they fared a little better in the state budget than they thought they would.”
Edgington said he was aware of Lawrence’s memo detailing the district’s intention to hold onto the federal jobs money until next year.
“There’s nothing that precludes them from spending that money to help people through a time of great challenge,” he said. “We think that they ought to take a second look at their position on that.”
Annie Nolen, who represents instructional assistants and other district staff in the California School Employees Association, agreed. Her union members rejected a proposal that would have required most of them to pay hundreds more a month for medical benefits.
Board President Paul Strange said the district would likely have to cut some of their staff, in light of their decision to reject the benefits cap. But Nolen said no new proposal has surfaced and the union won’t meet with a mediator again until Nov. 10 — the day after the only board meeting scheduled next month.
Part of the reason the district may not be moving quickly to cut jobs or hours is that they can’t fill the positions they have now, Nolen said.
“Last week, they still had about 40 jobs to fill,” Nolen said. “I think very few people have taken the 3-hour ones and they’re trying to get the subs to take jobs. I have no idea what their plan is.”
Nolen also said many special education assistants with 15 to 25 years of experience are retiring because they won’t be able to afford benefits hikes.
“One thing that worries me is that my assistants are just flooding out of here and I just hate to see that,” Nolen said. “They definitely couldn’t afford this last proposal.”
She said some child care assistant make $10 per hour, six hours a day. Some would be required to pay $300 – $400 a month under the district’s proposal.
“What just breaks my heart the most is all these ladies that don’t want to retire,” Nolen said. “These are your veteran, seasoned assistants. They’ve been around and work well with the kids and the teachers. I would have thought the district might want to keep these folks. Maybe they think people are desperate enough to come down here and take these 3-hour jobs.”
Nolen said she has encouraged some of her union members to tell the board their personal stories tonight.
“These people aren’t just my members, a lot of thse people are my friends and it realy bums me out, because I’m the one that hears their stories,” Nolen said. “I guess I’m just really worried about these folks, to tell you the honest truth. Some say, ‘I’m losing my home, my husband’s lost his job.’ After a while it’s just like, ‘Oh, mercy, what can I do for these folks?’”
Although Nolen admitted she was feeling a bit disillusioned, she said she’s not ready to give up.
“Are we going to quit fighting? Absolutely not,” she said. “I just wish I could see a little bit of light on their end.”
Judy Armstrong, president of the CST unit, told me she called a meeting off all the union reps last Thursday, including the teachers’ union (MDEA), CSEA, and Local 1 M&O and CST units.
“We are uniting together,” Armstrong said. “We have nothing to hide. We want this district to know that we’re not going against each other. We’re togeher because this is not fair, what they’re doing.”
Armstrong said she believes the board will vote on layoffs next month — to take effect in January. She, too, said the $6.5 million in federal jobs money should be used to soften the blow to employees.
About 43 secretaries would be affected by the proposal to reduce hours to 3.5 and wipe out benefits coverage: 29 at elementary schools, six student resource techs at the high schools, 10 middle school secretaries and two senior secretaries in the dist office, Armstrong said.
“They haven’t taken any work away, but they give raises to upper management,” Armstrong said, referring to raises doled out last year to four administrators, including nearly $30,000 for the general counsel. “That’s what kills me.”
Armstrong said some schools have tried to bring in volunteers to handle the extra work that isn’t being done because of hours cut.
“I’m saying, ‘No,’ you can’t put people out of work and then bring volunteers in,” Armstrong said. “It has just gotten to be ridiculous.”
Although the teachers’ union has opted not to endorse any candidate in the upcoming board election, Armstrong said her unit is endorsing only Cheryl Hansen, a Contra Costa County Office of Education administrator and former Mt. Diablo district principal. Three seats are open and seven candidates are running.
“We think we need new blood,” Armstrong said. “She used to work for the district for 24 years, so that’s who we are suporting. Nobody else.”
Armstrong said she likes incumbent Linda Mayo personally, but she fears Mayo is more aligned with administrators and teachers than with classified employees.
“She is strictly for management and the classroom,” Armstrong said. “Well, that’s fine, but the classroom also has to have help from classified people, starting with bus drivers, custodians and the secretaries.”
Armstrong said her union is also wary of candidate Jeff Adams because he is an attorney in the Walnut Creek office of Littler Mendelson, which represents employers in disputes with labor unions.
“He’s a shareholder for a law firm that is completely against unions,” Armstrong said. “So, why would we endorse him?”
If the board votes on layoffs Nov. 9, Armstrong said, the district would have to give employees 45 days notice before they could be let go. By my calculations, that would mean they could be terminated on Christmas Eve.
“It’s rough out here,” Armstrong said. “It is really rough and it’s going to get rougher. We’re at impasse now.”
Adding to the union’s sense of personal dismay, Armstrong told me that longtime Local 1 rep James Jones died recently. Jones was a fervent fighter for the union, who was not afraid to speak his mind.
Jones once compared raises given to administrators at the County Office of Education to the AIG scandal. He regularly attended Mt. Diablo school board meetings and will be greatly missed.
Do you agree with the district’s proposal to cap health care benefits at Kaiser rates for all employees and to pro-rate the district’s portion based on a seven-hour work day?