Berkeley teacher’s union hits snag in salary negotiations with school district

Kore Chan/Staff
Britt Alamo spent the last six years teaching eighth grade at Berkeley’s Longfellow Middle School and finds herself in a difficult situation without a pay increase in the last four years.

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Britt Alamo has spent the last six years teaching eighth grade at Berkeley’s Longfellow Middle School. However, without a pay increase in the last four years, she finds herself in a difficult situation.

Teachers in the school district have not seen a raise since the 2008-09 school year, said Cathy Campbell, president of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers.

“I feel demoralized by the way the district is treating us,” Alamo said. “The workload that we’ve taken on is much more than we’ve had in the past.”

On Feb. 28, the school board rejected the union’s previously proposed one-time 10 percent bonus and offered a 1 percent raise for the 2013-14 school year instead, according to Campbell. Following the unsuccessful negotiations, the union is now proposing a 5.2 percent increase of current salaries, retroactive to July 1, 2012.

For Alamo, stagnant paychecks from Berkeley Unified School District combined with increasing health care premium costs have increased financial difficulties. She paid $188 per month for health care in 2009, but costs have now increased to $513 per month.

“(Teachers) want to feel like their work is valued, and that’s not how we feel right now,” Alamo said. “It feels really overwhelming.”

According to Campbell, the union was hoping the district would consider using its excess cash reserves to increase teachers’ salaries. The school district currently has $7.8 million in excess of the state’s required 3 percent reserve, the district’s budget report states.

“The union is concerned about where negotiations stand right now,” Campbell said. “There’s lots of ways to fund salary increases. We think that they need to use some of their cash reserves.”

Last August, the district’s school board did unanimously vote to give teachers a one-time 1 percent salary bonus.

“We wanted to at least acknowledge that we understood that the teachers and other staff had not received an increase for several years,” said School Board Director Karen Hemphill. “The cost of living had gone up. The cost of health care had gone up.”

The Berkeley school board declined to comment on ongoing labor negotiations, although Hemphill said topics including the optimal amount of money the district should have in its savings and the impact of Proposition 30 will be discussed.

“We do care about our teachers,” Hemphill said. “There’s still a lot more to be discussed. It’s the beginning of the process, not the end.”
According to Campbell, contract negotiations happen every two weeks. The next one is scheduled for March 14.

“Berkeley is a great district to work for,” Alamo said. “Our teaching corps is (the) best you could find in any district, (but) we’re going to start losing teachers if we don’t start compensating people.”

Daphne Chen is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @dchen_dc.