Berkeley Council of Classified Employees demonstrated on Friday March 28, 2014 outside BUSD's HQ on Bonar Street. Photo: Ted Friedman
Berkeley Council of Classified Employees demonstrating for fair pay and affordable healthcare in March 2014. Photo: Ted Friedman
Berkeley Council of Classified Employees demonstrating for fair pay and affordable healthcare in March 2014. Photo: Ted Friedman

A fact-finding panel brought in to assist with talks between the Berkeley Unified School District and one of its unions finally led to a contract breakthrough – after three years of negotiations.

The district and the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees, which represents 590 employees, hammered out the details of an agreement on Wednesday.

“We entered into the fact-finding phase early on Tuesday morning, and everyone worked together non-stop until we were able to reach a tentative agreement at 3:30 a.m. on Wednesday,” Superintendent Donald Evans said in a prepared statement. “It was a productive process.”

While the two sides had worked out a number of issues prior to this week, they could not agree on the district’s proposed transfer policy allowing it to shift employees between various job sites. The proposal put forward by the fact-finding team included language that offered protections to workers.

The two sides had also disagreed on the amount employees would pay for their healthcare. The district agreed to increase its contribution by $60 a month, starting in January 2015.

The two sides also agreed on wage packages. Employees will get a 2.5% pay increase retroactive to July 1, 2013. They also got a 2% increase starting July 1. The increase applies to all areas of compensation – salaries, longevity merit pay, stipends, and professional growth salary awards.

The Berkeley Council of Classified Employees (BCCE) represents employees who perform a variety of duties such as classroom and office technical support, custodial and facilities maintenance, nutrition services, school safety, transportation and other school-related support services.

The district and the union have been trying to reach an agreement for three years. The Public Employees Relations Board declared an impasse in January and appointed a mediator from State Mediation and Conciliation Service in February. When the mediator failed to settle the outstanding issues, the two sides decided in August to turn negotiations over to a fact-finding panel.

Union members and the school board must vote on the proposals before the new contract can go into effect.

Mediation between school district, staff union fizzles (09.01.14)
Chanting protestors shut down school board meeting (06.05.14)
Berkeley school employees demonstrate for a new contract (03.14.14)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...