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District unions negotiating new three-year contract for 2024

Art+by+Rachel+Lee
Art by Rachel Lee

American support for labor unions is at its highest since 1965, with 69% of U.S. residents expressing approval for union activities over the past two years, according to an August Gallup poll.

John Pencavel, the former Chair of Stanford University’s Department of Economics, said union support often fluctuates as the public’s goals align with those of the unions.

“Unions have pressed for years for higher legally mandated minimum wages,” Pencavel said. “And in some states, like California, they’ve been successful.

With the help of labor unions, Pencavel said California’s minimum wage is one of the highest in the nation at $16 per hour.

Although American union membership has declined since the mid-20th century, PAUSD unions have remained strong, according to Teri Baldwin, President of the Palo Alto Educators Association.

“PAEA has always had strong membership over the years,” Baldwin said. “We have consistently had between 97% and 98% membership.”

PAUSD has two main unions: PAEA, representing district educators, and the California School Employees Association, representing the majority of PAUSD employees who are not teachers –– including aides, office workers and custodial staff.

Baldwin said in the past, both PAUSD unions negotiated multiple improvements to their contracts, such as reduced class sizes in kindergarten, 14 hours of weekly classroom aide time, salary raises, lower health benefit contributions for PAEA members, pay for pre-school year teacher orientation, staff meeting scheduling for elementary teachers to match middle and high schools, paternity leave ahead state legislation and more precise guidelines for elementary prep time, student support and co-teaching.

CSEA President Meb Steiner said the district and unions also ensure student and taxpayer dollars are protected.

“When you’re in a public education setting and not a for-profit company, we all think about how to use public funds in the best way,” Steiner said.

When deciding how public funds are spent, Baldwin said CSEA and PAEA individually negotiate annual contracts and benefits with the district, with more extensive contract negotiations every three years.

“The entire contract is opened every three years when the contract expires,” Baldwin said. “Before the expiration date, we negotiate compensation and benefits every year unless we have a multi-year agreement, and the district and PAEA can open two other articles a year.”

The PAEA and CSEA contract expires on June 30, 2024.

“This three-year term helps us have some stability because you don’t want to be in a not-in-contract situation,” Baldwin said. “Every three years, the entire contract is sort of open and available, known as the successor agreement.”

Steiner said while the entire contract is mainly reserved for three-year term discussions, the compensation article and benefits article are always available for negotiation, and both sides can open two other articles annually.

“The district opened the discipline and safety articles,” Steiner said. “So, with the always open compensation and benefits articles, we’re going through four articles right now.”

Steiner also said CSEA’s primary goal in negotiations is to address inequities in staff experience.

“If you take someone making $30,000 and someone making $100,000, and every year you give them the same percentage increase, the income gap gets bigger,” Steiner said.

The difference between wages is part of the reason the unions negotiate separately, Steiner said.

“(CSEA) has roughly 800 (employees), which is not significantly fewer than the number of teachers,” Steiner said. “However, if you consider the salaries, a 1% salary increase for CSEA amounts to about $600,000 (total), whereas for PAEA, it’s around $1.2 million.”

Another significant focus for CSEA is getting part-time employees more benefits.

“Within our unit, we have people who are part-time, some working less than 20 hours a week, so they’re not eligible for benefits,” Steiner said. “When I started with the district, any employee who qualified for benefits was given 100% benefits, but healthcare costs skyrocketed.”

For PAEA negotiations, the district opened the evaluations article, and PAEA opened the working conditions and class size articles this year.

“We would like to see lower special education caseloads, smaller class sizes and more robust safety language,” Baldwin said.

PAEA representative and math teacher, Daniel Nguyen said PAEA is receptive to feedback on its negotiating.

“One theme I’ve observed is that we are continually asked for input on various issues,” Nguyen said. “What we care about is ensuring that members attend meetings and become involved, speaking at board meetings.”

Nguyen said getting involved in PAEA was important to him to ensure union members’ priorities are properly represented.

“I wanted to spend that time helping my colleagues get their voices heard and fighting for what we need to be more effective in the classroom,” Nguyen said.

Steiner emphasized the importance of unions in balancing negotiating power between employers and employees.

“Unions are critical to increasing the collective power of employees,” Steiner said. “Our mission is to improve the lives of our members, students, and the community.”

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Julian Hong, News & Opinion Editor
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