Public Employees Union at impasse with school district

June 22, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Even though most schools are closed for the summer, the difficult task of balancing budgets is heating up. Teachers and school employees showed up outside the Mt. Diablo Unified School District in Concord to voice their anger over impending layoffs and cuts.

On Tuesday night, the Mt. Diablo school board weighed some difficult options and approved the budget. Even with drastic cuts, they will still have a deficit of at least $10 million. Some of the 850 members of the union will be let go or have their hours or benefits cut back severely.

Maintenance workers are part of the support staff at schools and so are the secretaries, cafeteria employees and custodians. They are represented by the Public Employees Union, Local 1 which was at an impasse with the Mt. Diablo Unified School District mainly over health care benefits.

"The 'take it or leave it' are real drastic cuts in medical, making people pay more based upon the number of hours they work and freezing what the district will pay in perpetuity after this year," said Rollie Katz from the Public Employees Union.

The district proposed a cap on health care benefits for most employees and those who work part-time could see their benefits reduced. That is the district's "take it or leave it" offer. In fact, their negotiators walked away from the bargaining table after the union refused to accept their demands.

The board says it had no choice.

"It is dismal and I don't think we are any different from any other district. Our budget has been cut tremendously, enrollment is down, and costs are increasing," said Deborah Cooksey, the district negotiator. "We wanted to be honest with people and not waste their time at the bargaining table, so we started with only what we needed and therefore there is no room for us to move."

"Yeah it will be hard. As of now our income is not enough for our family," said Joel Dangla-Cruz, a custodian. He says any health care cuts will affect his livelihood.

"If they don't have any additional money to offer up, then they at least need to come back and engage with us again," said Jeff Apkarian from the Public Employees Union. He feels the quality of education will suffer.

The Mt. Diablo school board admits the district has been underfunded for years. The school board has already labeled the actions they have taken as irrational decisions, but these have been tough economic times.

School board members and staff clearly label a culprit in this dilemma -- lawmakers in Sacramento.

"All of those cuts, not one of them was because the school district ran us out of money. It was because the state stopped providing the money. Education in the state of California is not a priority," says Gary Eberhart from the school board.

There is another important meeting taking place Tuesday evening in Concord. At the City Council meeting, they will also discuss cuts to public safety.

Union Local 1 also represents about 100 public safety employees, so there are more cuts scheduled to take place throughout Concord.


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