Culver City teachers chose a new bargaining agent Tuesday, ousting their longtime representative, the Culver City Federation of Teachers, in favor of the rival Culver City Teachers Assn.
The association, which campaigned on a platform promising higher salaries and lifetime health benefits, defeated the federation 135 to 117. Almost 90% of the eligible teachers turned out for the hotly contested election.
Salary levels for teachers in the Culver City Unified School District have fallen steadily over the past decade, with the maximum annual salary for this school year, $37,720, ranked 38th out of the county's 43 unified school districts. Eleven years ago, the district ranked 11th among 35 districts.
Decreased State Funding
The district and the federation attributed the declining salary levels to decreased state funding.
Association members, however, blamed the federation, the bargaining agent since 1977, for doing a poor job of negotiating for money. This was the association's third attempt to decertify its rival in the past six years, and its success left many members giddy.
"I can't tell you how excited we are," said association President Bess Doerr. "When the votes were being counted some (association) members could not bear to watch. They had to stand outside. But when the results were announced, the place just erupted."
Federation members, who had predicted victory before the election, expressed shock at the results.
"I'm not sure we have figured out exactly what happened," said Larry Bordan, a staff representative for the federation's parent group, the California Federation of Teachers. "Our assessment showed us that we were winning, but apparently people did not tell us the truth."
Federation Vice President David Mielke said teachers were swayed by the association's campaign promises of a 10% salary increase over the next three years and lifetime health benefits.
"I would say (those promises) are totally unrealistic, certainly for this year," he said. "We've analyzed the district's budget and a 10% raise is certainly unrealistic, unless they cut back on fringe benefits, get rid of (teachers') preparation periods and increase class sizes."
"But if they can accomplish that, that would be great," Mielke added. "We're entirely committed to support them. We'll support their negotiations and we'll bring pressure to bear on the district in their behalf."
Doerr said she will promote unity among the teachers by including federation members on the negotiation team and working toward an eventual merger of the two unions.
Jacques Bernier, a staff representative with the association's parent group, the California Teachers Assn., said Doerr's leadership and her friendship with teachers in both unions played a large part in the association victory.
"She is a person capable of ending the quarreling between the two groups and bringing everybody together," he said.
High school teacher Howard Bennett, whose one-man campaign made lifetime health benefits an issue in the campaign, said he has been "walking on air" since he heard the election results.
"The president of the (association) has promised me that lifetime health benefits will be a cornerstone of her negotiations, and I look forward to that," he said.
The teachers' three-year contract expires July 31. Bernier said the association expects to submit a proposal for the new contract to the district by July 1.