Still without a contract and upset with the way the Sweetwater Union High School District has handled contract negotiations, the Sweetwater Education Association announced it was going to hold a vote that could lead to the first teachers strike in decades.
The announcement came at a Feb. 28 teachers protest where an estimated 500 teachers marched around the district office showing their discontent with superintendent Ed Brand and board members for backing out on a contract agreement.
Union members claim the district participated in unfair labor practices when the district and union had tentatively agreed to insurance benefits but the district pulled out of the deal in the final hours.
“We’re protesting a contract violation, we had agreed to things in the last contract, and the district has unilaterally violated that and has not given us redress yet, that’s what we’re fighting for,” said Ben Fabian, a physics and chemistry teacher at Olympian High School.
Fabian said the district is acting in regressive bargaining by making each contract proposal worse and worse.
“If they violate this, what are they going to violate next?” Fabian said. “They just don’t seem to care.”
The SEA for months has been protesting proposals that include no cost-of-living-adjustment — teachers last received a COLA seven years ago — larger class sizes and an increase in the amount teachers would pay in health insurance.
Should the vote favor a strike, then the more than 1,800 SEA members will start striking within a few days to a couple of weeks, said Helen Farias, a Palomar High School teacher who sits on the SEA board of directors.
Although teachers held picket signs that read “I don’t want to strike but I will,” union president Roberto Rodriguez said the union isn’t bluffing.
“This is real,” he told the crowd of educators about the possibility of a strike.
Sweetwater district board President Jim Cartmill said a strike “isn’t the way to go.”
“I hope we continue to work within the process to reach an agreement that would be fiscally responsible and be able to take care of our teachers on the front lines with our students in a meaningful way,” he said.
Cartmill said the district has reached an agreement with more than 50 percent of employee groups in the district, which includes more than a $3,000 increase in health and welfare benefits.