Despite a slightly lower salary increase from last year, many teachers and employees of Turlock Unified School District still rejoiced on Tuesday following the Board of Trustees’ approval of agreements that included a significantly higher District contribution towards the cost of health benefits.
“This is a long time coming,” said Turlock Classified-American Federation of Teachers president Reggie Gomes. “It’s been a while since we’ve been able to put anything towards health benefits.”
“As far as working together with the District, we were all on the same page to see the big picture,” added California School Employees Association first vice president Lisa Narciso. “We are all moving towards the same goal.”
The two unions approved agreements between the District, which encompasses a 4 percent salary increase and a District uniform benefit cap of $7,124 for those currently enrolled in District provided health plans. The revised salary schedule and new uniform benefit cap are retroactive to July 1, 2015.
Although the 4 percent salary increase is marginally less than last year’s 5.2 percent salary increase, the approved uniform benefit cap, which goes beyond insurance provider recommendations, is a $3,281 increase for CSEA and a $3,657 increase for TC-AFT from previous health care benefits.
“I am very pleased to have an approved agreement with TC-AFT and CSEA not only because of the 4 percent salary increase, but also for the opportunity the new benefit cap will afford any employee to pursue health benefits through the District,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Jason Maggard.
The Board also approved a 4 percent salary increase and the District uniform benefit cap of $7,124 for unrepresented groups, which includes district and site administration, confidential employees, classified management and student support personnel, that were employed as of Oct. 6. The new salary schedule and District uniform benefit cap are retroactive to July 1, 2015.
Despite the fact that the District has agreed to the same percent increases in the past through negotiations with unions and provided the same percentage increases to unrepresented groups, TUSD has never had a uniform benefit cap for all employees according to Maggard.
“Equity for all staff is of greatest priority at this time. A uniform benefit cap is a fair approach as premiums for health insurance are the same regardless of the position an employee holds,” said Maggard. “It also supports the District’s efforts to seek improved benefit premiums in the future.
“With a uniformed approach, our hope is to improve participation in the District’s health plans enough to decrease premiums. The idea goes back to a basic principle of having strength in numbers,” continued Maggard.
One bargaining unit that did not receive the four percent salary increase and District uniform benefit cap of $7,124, however, was the Turlock Teachers Association, which declared an impasse along with the District in September.
“One area we have not agreed on is finding a way to increase participation in the District health benefits in order to try to get more affordable plans,” said TTA President Julie Shipman. “Currently our District benefits packages have very high premiums.
“It is not that we have contention with the District, it is that we are trying to make forward progress in lowering premium rates for all employees and in order to do that we must increase the participation pool,” continued Shipman.
Shipman said that as long as the District allows teachers to cash out a benefit amount rather than participate in District provided health plans, it will not accomplish its ongoing goal of increasing membership participation and ultimately lowering the rates for everyone.
In order for the District to implement the uniform benefit cap, every union group is being offered the same benefit amount of $7,124. Shipman said that is where the inequity lies because in order to establish that equal benefit amount, the increase to the District benefit cap would be 32 percent for TTA, 85 percent for CSEA, 105 percent for TC-AFT and 96 percent for administration.
“Therefore to establish that new benefit amount, every other employee group will receive a larger increase to their benefits, equating to a larger raise,” said Shipman. “Just like last year, TTA member were given 3.55 percent with three additional work days, while non-represented employees, including administrators, were given a 5.2 percent raise without any additional work days required.”
The impasse between the union and the District has led to some contentious feelings among both parties. At a recent TUSD Board of Trustees meeting when Shipman got up to present her staff report on the status of negotiations, she was told by Trustee Eileen Hamilton that the meeting was neither the right time or place to discuss negotiations.
“It was blatant disrespect and if school board members are going to act so flagrantly in a public venue, Turlock teachers cannot trust that board members support teachers behind closed doors,” said Shipman.