The BUSD school board meeting at its new meeting space on Bonar St. in March headquarters. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
The Berkeley School Board will now let a fact-finding panel help it negotiate a new contract with the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees union. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD
The Berkeley School Board will now let a fact-finding panel help it negotiate a new contract with the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees union. Photo: Mark Coplan/BUSD

After failing to agree on a new contract despite three years of talking, the Berkeley Unified School District and a union representing 570 Berkeley school employees will now turn negotiations over to a fact-finding panel.

A mediator that has been working with BUSD and the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees union (BCCE) since February decided on July 29 that mediation could not bring the two sides any closer and turned the process over to a three-member panel. The main sticking point is the question of involuntary transfers. The district and union have reached agreement on many other issues, including salary raises.

“We are disappointed we could not reach a settlement in mediation but we agree with the mediator’s assessment that these talks have gone on long enough,” Superintendent Donald Evans said in a press release. “We welcome the opportunity to demonstrate before the impartial fact finding panel that the District’s proposals are fair and reasonable.”

BCCE union president Paula Phillips said they’ve come a long way.  “We had 25 to 30 items in December, and got it down to four to five sticking points.”

The union represents office staffers, librarians,  instruction assistants, custodians, food service workers, school safety officers, bus drivers, special education aides, and others in Berkeley schools.

Paula Phillips (left), President of the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, led union members in chanting at a June school board meeting.

The main issue for the union is involuntary transfers.  The district wants to be able to transfer staff between schools, especially special education staff, it stated in a press release.

Phillips said the union was willing to craft special language in the contract for special education aides to be transferred, but, she said, the district declined.  The union also still has issues with the benefits contribution and with maintaining the integrity of the merit system, she said.

The union has been negotiating a new contract for three years and is currently working under an old one. The Public Employees Relations Board declared an impasse in January and appointed a mediator from State Mediation and Conciliation Service in February.

“The negotiations have been unusually complex as a result of the need to merge two different contracts,” BUSD said in a press release. (In late 2011, BCCE merged with another union of BUSD classified employees.) “In the vast majority of instances where there are differences between the two contracts, the District’s proposals give BCCE members the more favorable terms between the two contracts.”

Phillips agreed with that assessment, for the most part, but added that the union wants paid family medical leave for a group of part-time employees, which isn’t being offered.

The district said that on June 16 it made a proposal offering all BCCE members on-going raises that are higher than those received by any other bargaining unit – and 1% more than the teachers union received. (A 2.5% retroactive raise for 2013-14, an additional raise of 2% for 2014-15, and a 0.5% bonus for 2014-15.) This is in addition to the 2.5% on-going salary increase and 3.5% bonus that all district employees received last year.

The union is not disputing the salary offer, Phillips said.

After a meeting between the district and the union on July 29, the state-appointed mediator decided further mediation would not be productive.

The bargaining process will now enter a fact-finding stage.

“Under fact finding, an impartial three-person fact finding panel is convened to hear the arguments from both sides and issue a non-binding settlement recommendation,” according to the school district press release. “Under state law, the fact-finding hearing is not open to the public.”

The panel will include one member appointed by the district, one by the union and one mutually agreed upon.  During the fact-finding process, the district and union are still allowed to continue negotiations.

The BCCE members will start the school year under their old contract if no agreement has been reached before then.

Click here for more on the fact-finding process. For updates on progress, go here.

Chanting protesters shut down school board meeting (06.05.14)
Berkeley school employees demonstrate for a new contract (03.14.14)

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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...