Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera Unified School District educators applaud after MUTA president David Holder speaks on their behalf during a school board meeting Tuesday evening.
Teachers show their colors
Five hundred Madera Unified teachers — one fourth of the membership of MUTA, the teachers’ union — converged on a meeting of school trustees Tuesday evening to express their discontent over contract negotiations with the district.
The current contract, which went into effect in 2016, terminates in June 2019.
Talks between the union and the district have reached an impasse, and a mediator came to Madera on Wednesday in an attempt to bring the two sides together.
If the mediation is unsuccessful, the final step in the negotiating process is “fact finding,” wherein a different third party will attempt to examine all of the facts relative to the arguments of both sides and recommend a settlement.
Tuesday’s show of support by the teachers was the largest in recent memory. Attired in red shirts, the teachers gave spontaneous shouts of encouragement for their leaders, president David Holder and vice-president Amanda Wade. Wade is the union’s chief negotiator.
Taking the podium first, Wade chastised the board and claimed, that while the district was “flush with money, “we do not want to break the bank.”
“We hope we don’t picket and strike, but we will,” maintained Wade.
Pointing to the crowd behind her, Wade emphasized that the union’s membership was behind its leadership and that the huge assembly symbolized the solidarity that exists among MUTA members.
Wade called the teachers’ presence at the board meeting “disheartening” because they had to leave their families to attend.
She reminded the board that mediation was scheduled for the next day (Wednesday).
Following Wade was MUTA president Holder. As he has done before, Holder fired a shot across the board’s bow by pointing to the recent strike by Los Angeles teachers and the current unrest among Oakland’s teachers.
Holder said there was turmoil in the district six or seven years ago, but claimed that “from 2012 until now, relations (between the teachers and the district) have been good.”
“We made good progress and great strides,” he said. “Then in the blink of an eye, it was all washed away.”
Alluding to the current negotiations, Holder said the district’s first two offers were “shocking.” He concluded his remarks to chants from the audience, “We love MUTA; we love MUTA.”
The primary obstacle separating the union and the district appears to be employee health benefits. According to a district spokesperson, Madera Unified contributes $17,207 annually for each employee’s health benefits, but that figure is not fixed. There is an “escalator clause.”
If the insurance premiums increase, as they invariably do, the district contribution will also increase but not by more than three percent. Any increase of more than 3 percent in health insurance cost becomes the responsibility of the employees’.
The school district wants to eliminate the escalator clause and is pressing for a cap on its contribution that would make any increase in health care cost, beyond what the district is already paying, the responsibility of the employees.
The union wants to maintain the escalator clause, insuring that at least 3 percent of any increase in health insurance cost would be borne by the district.
Outside of public discourse, both the union and the school district are reluctant to provide any other details on the negotiations or a prognosis on the outcome of mediation and possible fact-finding.