Alleging that a two-day strike earlier this month by teachers in San Dimas and La Verne was illegal, school district officials have filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Bonita Unified Teachers Assn.
In documents filed this week with the state Public Employment Relations Board, the Bonita Unified School District asserts that the union violated education labor laws by calling a strike before exhausting all other remedies to the dispute over salary and benefits.
The district also claims that the walkout violated a no-strike clause in the teachers' contract. In addition, the district has accused the teachers association of engaging in various "coercive" tactics, such as refusing to tell the district whether teachers planned to continue the strike.
"The district had no choice" but to file the complaint, said Supt. Duane Dishno. "I think it would be irresponsible of the district not to file the charge when the contract clearly has been violated."
Dan Harden, president of the teachers association, disputed the allegations contained in the charge, which he said amounted to nothing more than "teacher bashing." Filing the charge was simply a ploy to malign the union with unfavorable publicity, he said.
"It seems that it's just a dog-and-pony show for the media," Harden said. "If they were interested in resolving their differences with the association, they would sit down at the bargaining table. . . . It was a punitive measure on the district's part. They wanted to find some fault with the association, and this is how they chose to achieve that goal."
Dishno denied that the district had any ulterior motives in filing the charge.
"There are no hidden messages in it," he said. "It was a recommendation of our legal counsel that it was in the best interests of the district. . . . I would hope no one would read anything more into it."
Under the teachers' contract, salary and benefits for this school year are open to negotiation.
The teachers association is seeking a 6.2% increase in salaries, which currently range from $19,200 to $41,900. District officials have insisted that a 3.8% pay raise is their "best and final offer." The union also wants teachers to receive $3,412 annually in fringe benefits; the district has offered $3,000.
The district contends that the association could not legally call a strike because the final step in negotiations, a fact-finding investigation by a neutral party, has not been completed. This week, the association and the district are reviewing lists of potential fact-finders to decide on one agreeable to both sides.
Harden countered that the association still does not consider the 1987 contract dispute resolved because the district did not accept all of the fact-finder's recommendations.
The current contract, which included a 4% wage increase for the 1987-88 school year, was imposed unilaterally by the district, Harden said.
"We've already been through fact-finding (in 1987), and we haven't signed a contract," Harden said.
Because that dispute has not been settled to the association's satisfaction, Harden added, the teachers were within their legal rights to call a strike. Similarly, he said, the teachers did not violate their contract with the district by striking, since last year's negotiations had run their full course without producing a settlement.
The district has maintained that last year's issues are no longer on the table.
District officials have also charged that the union refused to tell them at several points during the dispute this month whether teachers would be striking on a given day. This was done, according to the charge, "to require the district to remain on 'strike alert.'
"This tactic . . . was unfairly used in an attempt to coerce the district into bargaining concessions and forced the district to have substitute teachers report to work to cover the possibility of a strike," the charge states.
The district had to have more than 200 substitutes on hand for the first day of school, when a strike was threatened but did not occur, and for the first day the regular teachers returned to work, officials said. The district is asking the Public Employment Relations Board to charge the association for the cost of the substitutes and take punitive action against the union.
Although the complaint does not specify how much money the district is seeking, the cost of substitutes for the two days exceeded $33,000.
Harden said the district demanded to know whether teachers would be back at work before the association's membership had reached a decision. Penalizing the teachers for the cost of substitutes is unreasonable, he said.
"It seems to those of us who teach in the Bonita school district that their contract with the scabs was more important to them than their contract with the teachers," he said.
But Dishno said the union's refusal to keep the district informed of its plans was a deliberate maneuver to impair the education of students. "Obviously it was intended to disrupt the operation of the schools, and it achieved that purpose," he said.
It may be a while before state officials determine which side is right in this latest controversy. The Public Employment Relations Board has yet to rule on charges exchanged by the district and the teachers association during their last contract dispute, in March, 1987.