YouTube video

Nearly 200 union workers from the Berkeley schools shut down the school board meeting temporarily Wednesday night. The group declined to stop their impassioned chanting, forcing the board members to go into closed session for about 15 minutes. (The video, above, by Mary Flaherty, shows members leaving their posts.)

District spokesman Mark Coplan said he’d never seen a Berkeley school board shut down in 20 years of service.

The Berkeley Council of Classified Employees union represents about 570 office staffers, custodians, food service workers, instructional assistants, school safety officers, secretaries, librarians, bus drivers and others.

The union is has been negotiating a new contract for three years, and is currently working under an old one.

“We’re not asking for new rights,” said union organizer Daria Wrubel. “We’re asking to keep the rights we’ve had for years.”

The union objects to the current changes in the new proposal:

  • Workers can be transferred between sites involuntarily.
  • Part-time workers lose family medical leave.
  • More cost for healthcare is passed on to the workers.
  • It also objects to lower salaries.

In remarks to the board, union President Paula Phillips said, “We absorb the costs while administrators (get raises).”

At the end of the remarks she started a round of chanting, “No contract, no peace,” and other slogans that went on for at least 15 minutes. (The allotted time for public comment is five minutes.)

Board president Josh Daniels tried to talk over the chanting but could not be heard. He told the protesters he “appreciated their passion,” and wanted a fair contract, but that the board had several other issues they needed to move on to. Eventually, the board members and administrators left the room and a sign said the board had gone into closed session.

The group’s goal, was in fact, to shut the meeting down.

“Now that the board knows what it feels like to shut down a single meeting, imagine if we had to shut all the schools,” Wrubel said.

Members of the same group staged a demonstration outside BUSD’s offices at 2020 Bonar St. earlier this year, shortly after the Berkeley Federation of Teachers reached agreement on their 2013-2015 contract.

About 30 minutes after the chanting ended and the union members left, around 9:15 p.m., the board meeting resumed.

Contract negotiations are due to begin again on June 11, Phillips said.

Read the text of Paula Phillips’ speech.

Berkeley school employees demonstrate for new contract (03.31.14)
Berkeley teachers, district reach tentative contract agreement (03.26.14) 
Berkeley teachers, district agree on 2.5% wage increase (05.31.13)
Berkeley teachers’ bonus plan rebuffed by district (03.07.13)
Portraits: Berkeley school gardening and cooking educators (05.29.13)
Berkeley appoints Donald Evans as new Schools Superintendent (05.22.13)

Do you rely on Berkeleyside for your local news? You can support independent local journalism by becoming a Berkeleyside Member. You can choose either a monthly payment or a one-time contribution.

Mary Flaherty is a freelance reporter who has lived in the Berkeley area for since 1994. She earned a masters in journalism from UC Berkeley, and has reported for several local papers and copyedited for...