Thursday, May 31, 2012

Jobs Trump Pay & Conditions Says San Diego Labor Council

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Collaborate with the bosses! Accept their unsubstantiated claims of declining profits and their insane demands for pay cuts and speedups, or else feel their wrath by way of mass layoffs.

Sound like the insane ravings of a corporate CEO, or right wing pundit or politician?

Think again.

This was the cry of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, which recently called on the San Diego Educators Association (SDEA) to work more closely with San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) in order to avert layoffs, according to San Diego

To be fair, labor council CEO Lorena Gonzalez said she was not making concessions for SDEA and she did ask SDUSD to provide “real” numbers so the union could better assess their actual financial status. However, the council’s demand that they go back to the bargaining table and work together suggests the council has lost patience with SDEA, (which is a member of the labor council), and that they expect a quick resolution, even if that means more concessions on the part of the teachers. It also suggests that they expect SDEA to accept the district’s dubious financial prognosis and use it as a basis for determining how much to concede, rather than backing the teachers’ reasonable expectation that the district should be the party to compromise find a way to compensate and treat them fairly.

The union and the district have been in a contentious contract battle since last summer, when the district demanded numerous concessions from SDEA, including furloughs and a continuation of the pattern of no pay increases that has been ongoing for the past few years. The district says the concessions will avert mass layoffs, yet Reduction in Force (RIF) notices have already been sent out to nearly 1,700 SDEA members (one in five district teachers, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune). The district claims that either the concessions or the layoffs are necessary in order to close a $120 million budget gap. However, if the district follows through with all these layoffs, they will be unable to open school in the fall because there won’t be enough teachers.

Lorena Gonzalez, CEO of the Council, said "We can't sit back and wait for things to work themselves out like in years past." Yet she did not make it clear how today is substantively different than in years past. Sure, the budget gap is larger than usual and the number of layoffs is high, but large numbers of teachers are laid off every year due to budget uncertainties and most get hired back once the budget is ironed out in the fall.

There is, however, one difference that neither the labor council nor the district want to admit: teachers may be unwilling to go another year without a raise, while continuing to have greater and greater job demands and duties imposed on them.

Like most large labor organizations around the country, the labor council’s officials are more concerned with a possible public backlash against unions (and the potential threat to their livelihoods as union officials) than they are with the pay, working conditions and wellbeing of their constituents, San Diego’s teachers and other working people. Thus, getting the teachers to agree to concessions, in exchange for reduced layoffs and labor peace with SDUSD, become much more important than wages and working conditions.

SDEA has apparently come to an agreement with SDUSD that would give teachers a raise starting July 1. However, the district plans to lay off 20% of teachers starting on June 30 to pay for it, according to the Union-Tribune. It is a false causal relationship. The district has plenty of other ways to cut costs, starting with its bloated administration. It can also start doing what district throughout the country should have been doing long ago: demanding an increase in local and state tax revenues.

From the union’s perspective, it was the right move. Their members deserve a raise, as do all working people, who have been paying for years for a financial crisis caused by the wealthy and which has benefitted only the wealthy.

The district cannot open school in the fall with a 20% reduction in teachers without significantly increasing class sizes and cutting course offerings, something they are unlikely to accomplish without a significant backlash from teachers and parents. If they do, the union should strike.

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