After months of tense labor negotiations, members of the Association of Pleasanton Teachers (APT) "overwhelmingly" authorized a strike in internal balloting last week, leadership for the teachers union announced on Thursday.
More than 98% of the collective bargaining unit's members who cast a ballot voted to allow a strike to be called "once the state-supervised impasse procedures are exhausted," APT officials said in a statement.
"After bargaining for almost two years, Pleasanton Unified School District (PUSD) management has made it clear that they refuse to invest in students by prioritizing teaching and learning in their budget," union officials said.
Prior to APT declaring an impasse and the California Teachers Association (CTA) requesting to enter fact-finding last month, PUSD proposed their most recent offer, which includes a two year compensation package (2020-2022) that the district said is equivalent to a 5% compensation increase.
Union officials said its members "are among the lowest paid in total compensation in Alameda County" though, and that PUSD "is proposing only an off-schedule payment for the 2020-2021 school year and a mere 2.0% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase for the 2021-2022 school year, even though the state has increased the district's ongoing funding by over 5% for the 2021-2022 school year alone."
Health benefits are not included in certificated salaries, and APT said teachers "are currently paying an average of $14,000 or more a year to provide medical insurance for themselves and their families," and costs are expected to increase up to 23.75%, depending on the plan, by next year.
Over the past year, APT members have advocated for "smaller class sizes and classloads, individualized support for special education students, and retaining and recruiting the best with competitive compensation," according to union officials.
Instead, they said that "PUSD management has unilaterally implemented several of its divisive proposals, such as increasing the duty day and instructional minutes for high school educators without pay and wanting to take away and dictate the 30-minute duty-free lunch for educators."
Members also rallied outside the district office on Bernal Avenue during the Oct. 14 Board of Trustees meeting, where APT President Michelle VerKuilen addressed the administrative cabinet and said members are "hopeful that we can avoid a strike, however, it is going to take PUSD management to willingly partner with us to help make a student-centered agreement happen."
VerKuillen added that teachers "should not just be met with occasional words of appreciation, but with actions that truly support our students and give us a fair return for the work that we have done and continue to do."
The California School Employees Association, which represents the district's classified staff, gave their support as well. President Derek Psaros said, "Today I think it is important to dedicate my time to our teachers," and that "PUSD has an opportunity to model for our youth the value of a teacher."
"In the coming weeks, please model for our youth the value of these professionals who represent our community, our district and on a daily basis, the student body itself," Psaros said.
District spokesperson Patrick Gannon told the Weekly that the union's announcement was a surprise, when asked for comment.
"We were not aware the association had taken that step and have not received communication from APT or CTA," Gannon said.
As recently ordered by the California Public Employment Relations Board, the district and APT are currently in the midst of fact-finding -- a process undertaken when both parties fail to reach an agreement through mediation -- and have a meeting scheduled on Oct. 26, according to Gannon.
"We have and continue to be committed to collaborative, ongoing conversations with the association to reach a collective bargaining agreement," Gannon said. "We hope this new development does not undermine what could be a productive part of the ongoing collective bargaining process."