After more than three years of negotiations, the Berkeley Unified School District will head back to the bargaining table with one of its unions Wednesday.
Since 2011, the school board has been unable to reach an agreement with the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, which represents roughly 600 of the district’s employees — including bus drivers, custodians, food service workers and safety staff — on issues related to pay and health care. The deadlocked negotiations led to the union requesting mediation in January.
According to union president Paula Phillips, the Public Employment Relations Board, which facilitates the mediation, has held nine sessions over the last four months.
“We hope that this will be the last mediation,” Phillips said. “After our members shut down the school board meeting, I’m more optimistic that we’ll reach an agreement,” she added, referring to a recent meeting at which union members protested and temporarily closed the open meeting.
The union is bargaining for a “me too” clause that would allow all the district’s unions to receive pay raises following one union receiving a pay raise. Other bargaining points are focused on medical benefits, family medical leave and involuntary relocations, which would give the district the ability to transfer employees to other sites, according to Phillips.
The district is not permitted to involuntarily relocate its employees.
“While we have settled contract negotiations with Berkeley Federation of Teachers and the Union of Berkeley Administrators in the last several months, we have not been successful in resolving a few very specific items that are keeping us from agreeing to a final contract with BCCE,” said Superintendent Donald Evans in an email sent to district employees Friday.
The district recently reached agreement with BFT, the labor union, which resulted in a pay increase for its members.
“We want a raise because we’re the lowest-paid employees in the district,” Phillips said. “We won’t be happy with the 1.5 percent raise that BFT agreed on. Our members need more.”
Another item being negotiated is whether part-time employees should be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides workers with unpaid leave for family members’ medical issues.
Only employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to taking leave are eligible under the federal law.
Although the district was unable to comment on the specifics of the negotiations, district board president Josh Daniels said in an email that the board is committed to reaching a contract.
“Every employee contributes to the success of our school district and is an important part of the world-class service we are committed to providing to students and families,” Evans said in an email. “As such, the board and I want every employee to benefit from a fair and equitable contract.”