At an impasse

Chico teachers and school district stalled on contract negotiations

Chico Unified Teachers Association President Kevin Moretti addresses a couple hundred Chico Unified School District teachers gathered in front of the Chico City Council chambers on Feb. 18.

Chico Unified Teachers Association President Kevin Moretti addresses a couple hundred Chico Unified School District teachers gathered in front of the Chico City Council chambers on Feb. 18.

PHOTO courtesy of the chico unified teachers association

Teachers in Chico are fed up. After a year of contract negotiations, their union, the Chico Unified Teachers Association (CUTA), remains at odds with the Chico Unified School District (CUSD) and is on the verge of a strike—which would be the first in district history.

The teachers point out that they have not had a salary increase in eight years, have continually received pink slips in the spring only to be offered their jobs again come fall, and agreed a few years back to a reduced health insurance policy. The CUTA is beginning to make moves to draw attention to the teachers’ plight by staging rallies, and talks of a strike have CUSD officials on edge.

On Feb. 18, the teachers conducted “informational picketing” outside the Chico City Council chambers just before the CUSD held its regular meeting. As many as 200 teachers and their supporters, many carrying signs, showed up for the gathering and then filled the chambers once the meeting began.

Following the protest and meeting, CUTA President Kevin Moretti issued a statement that the purpose of the rally was “to convince the school board and the community that in order to recruit and retain the new teachers we are going to need in the very near future, CUSD is going to have to change the way they do business with us.”

In October, the union filed an unfair labor practices charge with the Public Employees Relations Board for what CUTA Vice President Joe Asnault called “bad-faith bargaining” on the part of the district.

“We did that because they come to the table unprepared, they don’t offer counter proposals, they don’t send proper authority to the table to make decisions,” he said. “And it just lengthens the process.”

CUSD Assistant Superintendent Bob Feaster said he “vigorously” disagreed with Asnualt’s contention.

“If you don’t give people what they want, then they are going to say you’re not prepared,” he said. “We’ve offered a 2.21 percent salary increase, which was the most we could offer. We have offered about a 9 percent overall increase in total benefits and pay.”

The union says the latest offer in January is unchanged from previous offers. It has presented a counter offer, to which it is awaiting a reply.

The two sides are in the midst of a fact-finding process during which a three-member panel hears each side’s case and a report is issued. The panel is made up of a representative appointed by each side and neutral party that both sides agree on. Once the panel’s report is delivered, the district can make its final offer and the union can go on strike, if it votes to do so. Negotiations continue through the fact-finding process.

“If our executive board deems it prudent and legal they would call for a strike vote,” Asnault said. “That’s not saying we’re going to take a vote and definitely not saying we are going to strike.”

In response to the possibility of a strike, the CUSD held a meeting Feb. 25, after the CN&R’s deadline, with an agenda that called for discussion and a vote on how the district will respond if the teachers vote to strike.

“We are just in the process of planning for ‘what if,’” Feaster said. “We would be remiss in our duties knowing that the teachers have been talking about a strike and had people carrying picket signs that say, ‘I don’t want to strike, but I will if I have to.’”

The fact-finding process should be finished by mid- or late-March, resulting in the district’s final offer and the union’s vote on a strike.

“The teachers don’t want to go on strike,” Asnault said. “But we feel like we kind of need to take a stand for the profession at this point.”

Feaster said the district is taking the matter very seriously.

“A strike is a big deal,” he said. “It’s never happened in the Chico Unified, so we would be foolish, to put it mildly, if we didn’t prepare for this in advance. It’s a possibility in about a month, so we need to do some planning.”