Covina-Valley school district teachers strike is averted

Teachers’ union leaders called off a strike scheduled for today in the Covina-Valley Unified School District after reaching a tentative agreement with officials from the 13,400-student school system late Wednesday night.

“Schools are open and will resume on a normal schedule tomorrow, December 1,” Supt said. Elizabeth Eminhizer announced in an email to families in the eastern San Gabriel Valley District. “We look forward to continuing to provide enriching instruction and extracurricular activities for our students.”

“We are grateful to our outstanding teachers for the work they do with our students to provide them with excellent education every day,” she added.

The union also sent out an announcement: “A teachers’ strike in the Covina-Valley Unified School District was narrowly averted as a hectic negotiation session today resulted in a tentative agreement.”

Both announcements came just before midnight.

The strike, if it had taken place, would have been an early test case for K-12 labor disputes in the post-pandemic landscape. For the most part, due to COVID-19 relief efforts and record state tax revenues, school districts in California are inundated with record funding. But much of that money is one-off aid or based on tax revenues, which state officials warn are not safe to stay at current levels.

The agreement came after hundreds of teachers protested outside district headquarters on Wednesday morning. The union described the tentative pact as a compromise that addresses a key sticking point, a cap on health benefits that would have burdened recently hired and future teachers with higher health care costs.

The compromise avoids a two-tier structure for benefits that the county wanted. The district had urged that over time, new employees would have to pay more for health care for loved ones. The district had assured that under the proposed structure its proposed benefit would have remained overall generous.

The union wanted to maintain the status quo on benefits, arguing that the district could afford it.

Under the interim agreement, which workers must ratify, workers will retain benefits with no premium cost except under the most expensive plan, just as before. But over time, the cost of providing healthcare to loved ones will increase. Beginning Jan. 1, employee contributions to dependent insurance will increase to two to three times current amounts, but “still remain low,” according to the county. And beginning January 1, 2024, the district will pay 80% and unit members will pay 20% of health plan premium increases.

This benefits the district as there is a cost sharing associated with future increases in healthcare costs. The win for the union is that the conditions for recently hired and new employees eliminate a “hard cap” on what the district will pay for dependent benefits, which could have resulted in significantly higher costs over time.

The new agreement also provides for a 5.2% salary increase for the 2021-22 school year and a 7% increase for the current school year.

Both sides had already agreed on the amount of the salary increase for 2021/22. However, the amount of the increase for the current school year has not yet been determined. The union proposed a 10% increase as both sides entered the “fact-finding” process that is part of the state’s collective bargaining arbitration process.

In addition, the union had wanted all ex-employees to be covered by the pay rise for the periods they worked. Instead, as part of the overall compromise, the retrospective increases would only cover retired workers employed from July 1.

Under the agreement, special education teachers for additional duties related to case management of students with disabilities would receive additional pay — more than the district had proposed, but not as much as the union had requested.

At the start of Wednesday, an agreement seemed anything but certain. The district had posted updates online, as had the union.

Negotiations began at 9 a.m., just after the early morning rally that drew more than 300 participants. The teachers returned to district headquarters after school to demonstrate again.

The school system serves Covina, West Covina, Glendora, San Dimas, Irwindale and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. It has nine elementary schools, three middle schools, three comprehensive schools, one secondary school and one online school, as well as preschool and adult education.

Nearly 70% of the district’s students are from low-income families and approximately 80% are Latino.

The district employs approximately 575 teachers. The teachers’ union also represents the district’s nurses and speech therapists. Covina-Valley school district teachers strike is averted

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