The Sweetwater Union High School District has been plagued with problems but has managed to stave off labor unrest — until now.
In an October 14 interview, Roberto Rodriguez, president of the Sweetwater Education Association, said, “Last year the district negotiated contract language in which the district would pay no less than 68 percent of the health-benefit package. Now — three weeks before open enrollment, at a time when teachers and classified employees will be selecting their health package, the district blindsided us with a new rate and lowered the district’s contribution.”
Rodriguez says that as a result of this action, some teachers — those with families — will experience a pay cut. “We find this especially ironic as Dr. Brand likes to refer to us as ‘the Sweetwater family.’
“Brand is using health benefits as a bargaining chip,” said Rodriguez. “He made it clear that the district has the money and could fund the benefits as offered, but he wants a three-year agreement [with all bargaining units] with no other concessions.”
One Sweetwater teacher responded to the district offer this way: “The message you intended to send us was received loud and clear: You do not care about our health. You do not care about our welfare. You do not care if our families are well (I can think of a few at Hilltop who are suffering), or what choices we have to make in order to ensure our own and our families' well-being. We are merely an expense to you, and one you intend to deal with harshly.”
Manny Rubio, director of grants and communications, gave the following response to an October 16 Reader query: “The Sweetwater District will be offering the 68% rate for the majority of district employees. The district and its employee groups are currently in the negotiations process. Any changes will be based on those ongoing negotiations.”
Rubio did not respond to the Reader’s follow-up query: “Which employees would constitute the minority?”
Salary and class size are also being negotiated. Sweetwater teachers have worked since 2008 without a pay increase, according to Rodriguez.
Additionally, during the past three years, teachers have worked under a memorandum of understanding with the district; this enabled the district to increase the class size ratio from 28 students per teacher to 31 students per teacher. Because these numbers are averages, class sizes are sometimes larger.
The association is organizing a “trick or treat” protest at the board meeting October 21.