Strike Averted: Sweetwater Teachers, School District Reach Tentative Agreement

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Teachers and district officials are relieved to have a tentative contract agreement on the table after a year of bitter labor negotiations. NBC 7's Wendy Fry has more.

    The Sweetwater teacher's union has reached a tentative agreement with the Sweetwater Union High School District, averting a major strike in the South County school district.

    The three-year contract reached late Thursday night follows six months of difficult labor negotiations and caustic disagreements that included teachers picketing.

    The President of the Sweetwater Education Assocation Roberto Rodriguez said he was relieved to reach an agreement that addressed all the teacher's concerns including improving their health benefits, their salary and decreasing class sizes.

    "It feels good to finally be done," Rodriguez said. "I'm guessing most of our teachers will be relieved because the stress of 'will there be a strike or won't there be a strike' has been weighing heavily on all of us."

    Main points of the agreement include:

    •  A 30:1 staffing ratio for the 2014 to 2015 school year
    • A 2 percent raise this year; and a 3 percent raise next year
    • A maximum health care contribution of $13,130 for families of teachers covered under the district's health insurance plan

    A point of major contention in negotiations included the district imposing a cap on health care contributions last year.

    In a previously negotiated contract, the district promised to contribute 68 percent of health care costs. But, as insurance rates rose, the district decided to cap that contribution, which the union described as an unfair labor practice. As a result, some part-time teachers received negative paychecks, according to Helen Farias, a board member of the Sweetwater Education Association.

    The deal struck Thursday will reimburse teachers for the imposed difference, and begin a $13,130 cap on district and taxpayer health care contributions, starting January 2015.

    Superintendent Dr. Ed Brand held a news conference late last month, saying he felt the deal the district was offering was fair.

    "The Sweetwater district is basically a large family, and just like families have from time to time, we have squabbles. But that's what they are. They are squabbles that should not be escalating," Brand said during the press briefing. "So we need to stop the escalation and we need to get back to the bargaining table and we need to do the right thing."

    Before the tentative agreement reached late Thursday night, negotiations with a mediator were moving into the fact-finding stages of negotiations.

    The agreement will have to be ratified by a majority of teachers - a process that can take a couple of months.