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Teachers ready to move on Robert Moreno | Sat, May 24 2014 12:00 PM

The Sweetwater Education Association can close one of the most strenuous bargaining chapters in its history after the teachers’ union on May 2 ratified a tentative agreement with the Sweetwater Union High School District for a new three-year contract.

According to the union, of its 1,800 members only 899 teachers voted, with 837 or 93 percent voting to approve the contract and 62 members opposing it.

SEA President Roberto Rodriguez said there was overwhelming support to ratify the accord.

“With a 93 percent approval rate I think it was a statement that they (teachers) were happy with the TA (tentative agreement) for the most part,” Rodriguez said.

Under the new deal, teachers receive a pay hike of five percent over the next two years, with the first being a two percent raise retroactive to Jan. 1 and a three percent raise coming July 1.

This is the first salary bump for teachers in eight years.

For the 2015-2016 school years, SEA has an opportunity to reopen negotiations for the possibility of getting an additional pay hike.

The contract also ensures that the student-to-teacher ratio drops from 31:1 this year to 30:1 in 2014-2015, followed by a 28:1 ratio in 2015-2016.

The sticking point throughout negotiations however was the district’s healthcare contribution.

With the agreement the district’s healthcare contribution rises from $9,000 to $12,068 per employee annually retroactive to Jan. 1. That is 68 percent of the family rate for medical, dental, vision and life insurance; in January 2015 the contribution caps out at $13,130.

The union and the district came to terms on a new contract on April 10, shortly after the contract was approved by the school board, and ratified this month by the teachers, ending more than a year’s worth of negotiations.
But brokering a deal didn’t come easy.

The district and the union were at odds on bargaining terms since the teachers’ contract expired last June.

In October, the union accused the district of unfair labor practice when they said the district reneged on an agreed upon health insurance package.

The Sweetwater District has said that changes made to the health care law under the Affordable Care Act changed the district’s October proposal.

Negotiations turned ugly when SEA had authorized a potential strike that never came to be.

“Given the outcome of the vote the vast majority of our teachers were relived with the fact that we wouldn’t have to go on strike,” Rodriguez said.

The Sweetwater District held a press conference urging the union to come to an agreement before the end of Spring Break.

In the end, both the teachers and the district got what they say was a “fair deal.”

“The three-year agreement is a positive thing for our students and teachers, it gives them a fair contract while the district remains fiscally responsible for the next several years,” said Sweetwater trustee John McCann.

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