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Mediator Backs Key Teachers' Demands : Education: But official gives L.A. district a victory by urging that workers get only half as much salary restoration next year.

August 28, 1994|STEPHANIE CHAVEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A state mediator has recommended that Los Angeles teachers receive an 8%, one-year salary restoration--1% more than the school board originally offered--as part of a package that union leaders say could avert a chaotic strike soon after school opens in two weeks.

The Board of Education must first approve the package before it can officially be considered a bargaining offer to teachers. School board President Mark Slavkin was in a closed-door meeting with the board late into the afternoon Saturday and could not be reached for comment on the board's stance on the proposal.

After three days of intense meetings with both sides, state mediator Draza Mrvichin supported most of the union's demands for improving the offer, but also gave the district a key win--a guarantee that the teachers next year will receive only half as much as the mediator is recommending for this year.

Although Mrvichin did not agree that the district could afford a full 10% salary restoration this year, union leaders say they believe he has offered enough incentives to appease the demoralized teachers.

United Teachers-Los Angeles President Helen Bernstein fell short of whole-hearted endorsement of the package because a full restoration was not suggested. But she called it "a significantly better change from the previous district offer. . . . This, together with the improved health and welfare package that has already been agreed to, gives our unit members a clear choice."

If the board approves the mediator's report, Bernstein said, she will encourage her members to "seriously consider it. . . . I think they will be disappointed that they didn't get a full restoration, but they will weigh the option of going on strike or turning down 8% in their pockets this year."

If the board approves the recommendations, the offer would be put to a vote of the 32,000-member teachers union days after most schools open Sept. 12, Bernstein said.

Originally, the district had proposed a 7% salary restoration plan that included a 4% permanent restoration and a 3% one-time payment. The school board had also stipulated that all seven of the district's unions had to first agree to use a $42-million health benefit surplus for salaries--a contingency that teachers called unfair.

Among Mrvichin's recommendations:

* A 4% permanent and a 4% one-year contract restoration, with a promise from the district to continue the restoration in the 1995-96 school year if the money is available.

This provision is a significant win for the district. Strict state education finance laws prohibit the district from paying for ongoing salaries with funds that are available during one fiscal year. The district's original offer of a permanent 4% pay restoration was supported by the mediator. However, Mrvichin sided with the union, saying that the district could squeeze more money out of this year's $4.2-billion budget for salaries.

* A 50-50 split between the district and union if any new money becomes available this year. The district would earmark half of any additional funds for employee salaries and the other half for educational programs. Potential sources of additional income include increased lottery revenues and state and federal reimbursement claims filed by the district.

* The teachers union would be able to take its share of the health benefit fund, about $33 million, and use it for salaries without the permission of any other unions--an important win for teachers.

The union has long been opposed to bargaining that links its contract talks in any way to the district's six other unions. For the district, this recommendation could complicate negotiations with other unions. Already, two of them--the school police and clerical workers--have rejected use of health benefit funds for salaries. Instead, they want to use the health surplus as a hedge against future increases in health benefit costs.

* Mrvichin eliminated a provision in the district's original offer that called for teachers to report to work on two unpaid furlough days. Instruction is not affected by this provision. Instead, teachers will now get paid for time spent preparing for classes.

In addition, Mrvichin, a member of the State Mediation and Conciliation Services, suggested that the district set up a budget review committee, with representatives from all unions, to monitor fiscal developments throughout the year.

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