Union boss: ‘Strike is not inevitable’

Gilroy teachers still without new contract

Gilroy teachers are holding out hope that they won’t strike, that a deal can get done by Sept. 14, when union and district negotiators are scheduled to hear the results of a fact-finding report.

“A strike is not inevitable,” Gilroy Teachers Association President Jonathan Bass said this week. “Whether a strike occurs depends on whether an agreement can be reached prior to or during the fact-finding hearing.”

Gilroy Unified School District Supt. Deborah Flores said she is “hopeful that we will reach a settlement at this (fact-finding) stage as most districts have done.”

However, with a possible teacher strike looming, GUSD leadership is taking precautions, beginning the recruitment process for 250 substitute teachers to fill in for GTA teachers; and financing the production of an informational video on what to expect during a teacher strike.

“GUSD’s preparations simply mean GUSD is taking GTA’s strike threat seriously,” said Bass, whose members voted in June to authorize a strike if their demands are not met. “GTA is disappointed at the energy and financial resources that GUSD is pouring into hitting back against a possible strike. GTA would prefer that GUSD’s effort focus on making a fair contract offer.”

GTA members, among the lowest paid in Santa Clara County school districts, have been working without a contract since the previous three-year deal expired in June 2017.

The two sides remain far apart, with the union requesting a 6 percent pay hike and 5 percent boost in the district’s health care contribution, and the district standing pat at a 2 percent pay raise and no additional healthcare contribution.

In the interim, the district has posted a need for “special circumstance substitute classroom teachers” on the teacher recruiter website edjoin.org. The posting calls for 250 openings to be filled, with pay between $500 and $600 per day.

“In the event of a work stoppage, all of our school sites will remain open and ready to serve our students,” according to GUSD in an emailed response to questions posed by the Dispatch. “In order to facilitate this, the district must prepare for a strike now even though it may not happen. The district is doing so by actively recruiting and hiring qualified substitutes.”

Additionally, the GUSD Board of Trustees unanimously agreed to spend $4,400 to make a film entitled “Strike FAQ” in order to “address questions that may or may not be at the forefront of the minds of GUSD parents and teachers.” (The vote was 6-0, with Board President Linda Piceno absent from meeting.)

The board approved the expenditure, requested by district staff, at the Aug. 23 meeting. At that time, Bass stated the strike could cost the district nearly $200,000 per day.
Regardless, GUSD hired Gilroy-based 152 West Productions to produce the film. The contract includes $500 each for two actors and $3,900 for production. According to the Aug. 23 agenda item, listed in the consent calendar, “two local and well-established public speakers in the Gilroy community” will read from a script.

“The focus of the piece is to address the concerns of the parents regarding their children if a strike does occur,” according to the Aug. 15 proposal. “The information will be relayed by two actors with accompanying motion graphics for maximum impact. The length of the video will be 3-5 minutes.”

The production will take one half-day at a location to be determined. It will be posted on the district website and youtube.com, according to the staff report.

“The first two weeks of the school year have gone very well thanks to the dedication, hard work and professionalism of our staff,” Flores said. “Now that our students and their teachers are back in the classroom, the district is prepared to ensure that the excellent educational services being provided will continue, uninterrupted, as we work toward a successful conclusion to our negotiations.”

Once the panel releases its report (10-20 days following the hearing), it will be placed on a board meeting agenda in October for discussion and action, and “only then may GTA legally strike,” according to district staff.