Talks stall between teachers, district

Mediator to be brought in

Contract negotiations officially hit an impasse with the Gilroy Teachers Association last week, and Gilroy Unified School District officials immediately went on the offensive, blaming teachers for the stalled talks.

A flashing, multi-colored “Negotiations Update” link on the Gilroy Unified School District’s website outlines the district’s position on the situation that has forced Gilroy teachers to work without a contract since the previous three-year pact expired June 30, 2017.

“The parties have reached many agreements on language. The parties have not moved, however, from their respective positions on salaries and benefits,” according to a district-generated document titled, “Frequently Asked Questions-Labor Negotiations,” posted to gusd.org.

Gilroy Teachers Association president Jonathan Bass said union negotiators have tried to work out a compromise, but said the district is unwilling to budge on its stance of a 2 percent pay raise and no increase in health benefit contributions.

The union is asking for a 6 percent pay raise and for the district to increase its portion for member health care by 5 percent to cover the same increase in premiums.

“We withdrew our class size reduction proposal with the understanding that the district could use that money to go towards improving their salary and benefits proposal,” Bass explained. “The district maintained their previous salary proposal of 2 percent and no additional contribution towards benefits.”

Gilroy remains one of the lowest paying districts in the county, with a starting salary for a first-year teacher set at $50,743, according to edjoin.org, the education recruiter site used by California school districts.

Other nearby local school districts with higher starting salaries, include Morgan Hill Unified School ($54,989), San Jose Unified ($54,958) and East Side High School District ($55,349). At both San Jose Unified and East Side, full-time employees pay no out-of-pocket premiums for health benefits.

Outside of the county, San Benito High School District’s first-year teacher salary is $53,051 with full health benefits, while Hollister School District’s first-year teacher salary is $47,217.

A statewide teacher shortage has fostered challenges to districts such as Gilroy, which has had to replace an average of 75 teachers over the last two years and is well on its way to doing so again after 40 teachers already put in resignation notices for the end of the current school year, according to a GUSD staff report. Negotiators from the district and the teachers’ union, which began talks in December 2017, met for a seventh time March 26 and failed to come to an agreement on a new contract.

“GTA is seeking a salary/benefits package that will allow the district to recruit and retain the best teachers for our students,” said Bass, who represents the union that includes teachers and other certificated staff. “When we negotiate, we always have an eye on keeping Gilroy Unified a great place to learn and a great place to work.”

The district, however, claims that the union demands will zap the district’s reserve fund and “would bankrupt the district in the third year,” according to the district report. Compounding matters is that district revenues are expected to decrease by nearly $1.3 million next year because of declining enrollment, according to the same facts sheet.

The two negotiation teams did agree March 26 that they are “at impasse” and “not likely to make any additional progress without the assistance of a neutral mediator,” according to the staff report. They have requested assistance from the Public Employees Relations Board.

In its online report to the public, district staff shares that teachers’ union members have gotten salary increases every year dating back to 2013-14 when they got a 4.5 percent raise. In subsequent years, teachers earned a 5.5 percent raise in 2014-15; 3 percent in 2015-16; and 2 percent in 2016-17 plus 2.5 percent on benefits.

“The district has worked very hard to improve the benefits package for its employees and is contributing significantly more to every employee’s benefits with the increases that went into effect last year,” according to the district fact sheet, which goes on to state that “the district’s total compensation to teachers and certificated staff (i.e., salary plus benefits) higher than some other nearby school districts.”

Last year, increases in salary and health contributions equaled $6 million and the district budgeted for an additional $1.7 million next year “even if nothing extra is negotiated,” according to the district report.

Once a mediator is appointed, that individual will meet privately with both negotiating teams “to gain an understanding of each side’s positions, to see if there are any potential concepts or proposals to share with the other side and to persuade the parties to come to a mutually acceptable agreement,” according to the district’s online literature titled “Frequently Asked Questions—Impasse and Factfinding.”

No date has been scheduled as of yet to meet with the mediator, according to Bass.

If an agreement still can’t be reached, negotiations turn to a “factfinding process,” where one member of each negotiating team states their case to a neutral third party who then reports “final findings and recommendations,” according to the district report.

Negotiations can also continue between the two sides during these stages separate from the mediator and an agreement still can be ironed out.

If no contract is reached, the board of education must hold a public hearing and “may take action to unilaterally implement the recommendations of the factfinding panel, to unilaterally implement the District’s ‘last, best, and final offer’ or take no action.”

Once all of these steps are completed, the union members have the right to strike or otherwise engage in a work stoppage, according to the report.

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