A sea of purple shirts greeted the Board of Trustees at their Nov. 18 meeting. Frustrated with the slow pace and limited offers made by the district during their contract negotiations, classified staff members represented by SEIU 1021 turned out to voice their dissatisfaction.
Classified staff — such as maintenance and construction workers, technicians and clerical staff — have suffered under the poor economy of the last few years. They have not received any cost-of-living increases in their salaries for the last seven years. They have seen layoffs. They have taken furlough days and worked unpaid overtime.
Now that the economy has improved, classified staff have been hoping to see compensation for their efforts to keep the district going. However, they feel the contract proposed by the district is far less than it should be.
“We’ve all taken on additional duties willingly because we know this district must keep going and doing what it is doing, and we’ve maintained hope that things will get better,” said Rachel Ugale, President of the Classified Senate at Chabot College. “But people are at their limits, stretched so thin, shoulders heavy with added responsibilities, that this place we love makes us sad.”
The latest proposal from the district would give classified staff a one percent one-time payment as well as a one percent pay increase each pay period.
Bill Eddy, Interim SEIU District President, explained that these pay period increases would be based on employee’s total salary. However, it would only factor in pay periods after ratification of the contract, meaning that even if the contract were ratified immediately, classified staff would see pay increases of less than 1 percent of their yearly salary.
Eddy also expressed concern over the lack of “me-too” clauses, which would guarantee classified staff the same pay rate increases as faculty and administration staff.
The proposed three-year contract also includes reopener clauses — which allow for parts of the agreement to be renegotiated before the contract expires — for the second and third years. These reopener clauses were an additional source of contention for SEIU members.
“Here we are, with one percent across the table, with one percent as a lump sum, and with demands for reopeners on medical,” said Kaden Kratzer, an SEIU 1021 Field Representative. “When we questioned about the reopeners for medical, what we’re hearing is ‘We’re worried about ACA in 2018.’ This contract doesn’t go to 2018! Yet here we are. Your proposal can be described in one word: asinine.”
A complaint echoed by all of the union members who spoke during the public comment period of the meeting was how long the negotiations were taking.
“I came here earlier this year to address you all, wanting to send a positive message as we went into negotiations,” Ugale said. “I’ve watched this negotiations team get increasingly frustrated at how little progress has been made to date.”
“What we need you to do is to stop taking these negotiations down such long roads,” said Mark Smythe, SEIU 1021 Chapter Treasurer for Chabot. “I stood here in January or February and I was really optimistic that we would get a contract in a speedier fashion than we have in the past. We had a good early start, but now we’re here several months afterwards and we don’t see any progress being made.”
“Time is very valuable, we want to get the contract done,” said Gregory Correa, an SEIU Union Representative. “We did not say in February that we were going to get it done before July 1: they did. Well, I guess I’m going to be cooking a turkey next week, and you know what? We still have no contract.”
Per meeting rules, the Board of Trustees could not comment on or respond to anything said during the public comment period. However, that did not keep the classified staff members who showed up from expressing their frustration with the negotiation process.
“A few years ago the economy was tough and the board of trustees and the presidents of both colleges asked for help from all of us to keep the ship afloat,” said Ginger Ripplinger, Administrative Assistant to the Dean of Student Services at Las Positas College. “Like rubber bands, classified professionals stepped in and stretched all we could. We took furlough days. We had no salary increases for seven years. We did not charge for overtime. There were layoffs, and we continued to work with minimal resources. We gave all we could, because times were tough and we did our best to support this institution.”
“Now the economy is getting better, and the institution is in better shape,” Ripplinger said. “Now is the time for the leaders of our district to release the rubber band back onto us and give us what we deserve.”