Union members call for wage increases at Berkeley school board meeting

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Xiaoye Yan/Staff

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At a BUSD board meeting Wednesday, union members voiced dissatisfaction about their wages.

Wearing matching burgundy shirts and carrying signs reading “Living wage, decent life” and “Will work for living wage,” members from the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, or BCCE, joined dozens of parents, staff members and union representatives to call for higher wages. Citing increased cost of living, many union members said their low wages made it difficult to live in the area and interfered with their ability to perform their jobs.

“I hate that after almost nine years with the district, I have to say that they don’t pay me enough for this,” said Cynthia Rivera, a special education instructional assistant and member of BCCE, during public comment. “I laugh with these kids, I cry with these kids. Do not take away my passion. Don’t kill my joy because you can’t find it (in) your heart to pay us.”

Some workers have had to take on additional jobs to support themselves, according to Rivera.

Many of us professionals are struggling to stay in the Bay Area,” Rivera said. “We need a respectable income so we can continue to do the work that we love.”

Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, announced her organization’s solidarity with BCCE members and its support for BCCE’s platform.

While Campbell focused her comments on a proposal to provide housing to BUSD employees, she made it clear that BFT considered raising wages for all employees important for the success of the district.

Miguel Barrera, a special education instructional aide at LeConte Elementary School, called for the district to give a pay raise and pointed out that the bonus that he received from from the district cannot keep up with the cost of his housing.

BUSD issued a one-time, lump-sum bonus equal to 1 percent of an employee’s salary, according to Berkeley Unified School District’s collective bargaining agreement with BFT.

“How can we expect to do an optimal job when the cost of living keeps going up and our wages don’t reflect that?” Barrera asked. “I’d like that we be offered a wage, instead of a one-time, 1 percent bonus. That 1 percent bonus, for me, would be approximately $18.”

BUSD school board member Beatriz Leyva-Cutler said the stories that union members shared for public comment were important in making informed decisions for the district.

“I’d like to thank the students and the parents and the classified members who came out and spoke to the board with a lot of passion,” said Leyva-Cutler. “It helps to hear, even as hard as it is, and it’s part of the process of us listening, even when it’s hard.”

Contact Sam Levin at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @SamJLevin.