Classified employees of the Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, demonstrated for higher wages at a BUSD board meeting Wednesday.
Demonstrators held signs advocating for a “living wage.” One recurring sign read, “We protect, cook, clean, drive, repair and help students succeed. We also need to eat.”
The demonstrations come amid contract negotiations between BUSD and International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers Local 21, or Local 21, as well as the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, or BCCE, the two unions representing the classified employees of BUSD.
Classified school district employees include those who work in maintenance and operations, food service and transportation, as well as clerical and other office workers throughout the district.
“We need to find ways that we can support our employees, … but we need to do it in a financially responsible way so that we don’t sacrifice the possibility of future employee raises down the line,” BUSD board president Josh Daniels said in response to public comment from the demonstrators. “At the time time, we can’t be so conservative that we’re not able to recognize the need that exists right now.”
Joseph Greco, a classified employee at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, raised concerns during public comment about safety issues at the middle school’s after-school program. Greco said he and other classified employees were left to address safety issues without support from administrators.
Berkeley Federation of Teachers, or BFT, members joined classified employees in demonstrating. Berkeley High School math teacher Dan Plonsey and BFT president Cathy Campbell spoke during public comment, both emphasizing that classified employees play roles critical to the work of teachers.
Plonsey added that teachers have been “losing ground” in negotiations with the school board for the last decade and that current offers to classified employees are “insulting.”
“Now the district is offering my colleagues 1 percent over three years,” Plonsey said during public comment. “Let’s not be disingenuous here — that’s a pay cut.
Collective bargaining negotiations with BFT, BCCE and Local 21 were all on the board’s closed-session agenda. While reports were out from closed session, Daniels said the board did not discuss negotiations with BFT and “discussed and gave direction” on negotiations with BCCE and Local 21.
During his response to public comment, Daniels said state requirements to spend money in specific ways, such as on retirement packages, have prevented the district from doing what it “needed to do” for BUSD employees.
“This is a tough time for all of us in the state,” BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans said in response to public comment. “The funding we receive in our district is not adequate for us to take care of our employees, our children, the way we want to.”
At the meeting, the board also voted to approve issuing REALM Charter School a notice of violation for moving outside of the district. REALM has relocated outside of Alameda County, which requires a material revision of the school’s charter. Evans said it is unclear whether the move is temporary or permanent. Evans added that REALM did not respond to a letter of concern issued by the district.