Monday, May 13, 2013

Looming Strike for Teachers in Ramona, CA

Teachers in the Ramona school district in San Diego County have overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. CTA officials say that 99% of the teachers participated in the vote, with 75% voting in favor of a strike. The vote does not mean that a strike will necessarily happen, though. Rather, it is a legal requirement before teachers can actually walk off the job, something their union may ask of them in the near future if negotiations with their district fail.

Negotiations are currently stalled, according to the Ramona Patch, in the wake of recent school board decisions to slash teacher pay by 7.8% this year and 9.4% next year. Donna Braye-Romero, president of the Ramona Teachers Association, said “We don’t want to strike. We’ve never wanted to strike. The district is forcing the situation.”

Of course the district is not actually forcing the teachers to strike—they could just shut up and take it. After all, Superintendent Robert Graeff is saying there isn’t enough money and the county Office of Education won’t approve a budget that is in the red. So from their perspective it is perfectly reasonable to “trim the fat” to balance their budget, a claim that is routinely made by bosses in all industries during tough times to justify layoffs and pay cuts. Indeed, this argument is so “reasonable” that the union itself has accepted it, and even conceded pay cuts for the first year of the new contract. Rather than demanding raises, or least maintaining current salaries, with the money coming from the district’s reserves or from slashed administrators’ salaries, the union is merely asking for “restitution” language in the new contract, according to the Voice of San Diego, so that if more money comes in in the future, the extra would go into teachers’ salaries.

California Teachers Association spokesman Bill Guy believes that the Ramona district is intent on breaking the union. This is very likely true. However, that is not a good reason for accepting the bosses’ claims of poverty at face value or for conceding a significant pay cut, something that may very well weaken the union by driving some teachers out of the district. Requesting “restitution” language is itself a significant concession and contributes to the weakening of the union by showing teachers just how weak and conciliatory their union really is.

On the other hand, if the district does not moderate its aggressive stance (17.2% pay cut over the next two years) teachers will almost certainly walk off the job. The struggle would then be the union’s to “win” or lose. If they do walk out, the union will likely end the strike if the district withdraws its demand for a second year of pay cuts, probably even without the “restitution” language. The union will call it a victory, but the teachers will be working for significantly less money than they were before, with little hope of ever making up what they lost.

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