Sweetwater Union High School District teachers will be taking a strike vote March 13–14. The vote, according to Roberto Rodriguez, president of Sweetwater Education Association, is to authorize the association’s board of directors to go on strike for an unfair labor practice or in case the district imposes a last, best and final offer.
The unfair labor practice claim was filed by the association because, they argue, the district reneged on a health-benefits offer presented at an earlier point in negotiations. Other issues on the bargaining table are salary, class size, and classroom safety.
Rodriguez believes there is strong teacher support for the strike vote: “I’ve been visiting school sites and the feedback we’re getting is pretty positive, some sites 75 percent in favor and some as high as 95 percent.”
Rodriguez said quite a few families were hard hit after the last pay period when the new health-benefit plan went into effect. On top of that, he explained, payroll made an error and some teachers had money taken out of their checks for a month and a half’s worth of benefits.
Julia Palumbo is a teacher with the district. She recently had a baby; her maternity leave is over but she’s staying out a little longer on unpaid leave.
“This whole health-benefit thing has been a nightmare,” Palumbo said. “When I was pregnant they gave us two weeks to make a decision about a whole new plan. My husband and I didn’t know what to do. We were trying to make a reasonable plan for our future and then everything changes. Finally, we filled out the paperwork and split up the family [for insurance coverage]. My husband teaches in the district, so we put our son on my husband’s plan — my son has teeth and so we gave him the better dental plan; I put the baby on my plan because she doesn’t have teeth. Our dental plan is in Tijuana.
“We filled out all the paperwork and then the district messed up and took more money than they were supposed to. As it is, we have $729 deducted monthly for our health plans.”
The vote will likely be tallied Friday night, March 14. However, Rodriguez said that does not mean teachers will go on strike Monday the 17th; rather, “It gives the [Sweetwater Education Association] board of directors the authority to call a strike when we feel it’s strategically advantageous.”
Rodriguez said the association will be meeting with parents in the next few weeks to continue to explain the issues and to solidify their support. He believes issues such as student-pupil ratio and classroom safety are equal concerns for both parents and teachers.
“It’s not uncommon to go into a classroom — particularly a required class like English, math, or science — and see upwards of 40 students in a class,” Rodriguez said.
Manny Rubio, spokesperson for Sweetwater, said in an email: “The district is committed to continuing to negotiate to find a resolution to this matter. We will have some more specific responses to the potential labor action soon that will be posted on our website. “