Faculty-classified alliance, improved communications empower members

TWO SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA classified locals have recently seen how unity pays off.
“Our members understand that the more of us who go in, the stronger voice we have,” says Debbi Claypool, president of the Palomar Council of Classified Employees.

The northern San Diego County local represents about 400 classified employees at Palomar College, including maintenance, clerical, police, payroll and janitorial, according to Claypool, a business services technician.

After the district hired a new human resources director, treatment of staff deteriorated. The administration retaliated against the union; bargaining was tough and the local needed to spend money on legal counsel. “We knew we had to implement agency fee,” says Claypool.

Members explained to non-members how union fair share would bring more power to the table. Since implementing it last summer, membership increased by more than 40 percent. “We’ve had a tremendous increase in participation,” says Claypool. “More members attend meetings, brainstorm, and are being heard.”

The local has avoided layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts, and stopped the district from contracting out. The local prevented implementation of a classification study that would have cut staff salaries.

“We communicate constantly and have gained so much strength. The district can no longer use us as pawns.” — Aaron Holmes, Assistive Media Specialist, Palomar College

The AFT classified and faculty locals created a committee called JUSTICE (Joint Union Staff Teachers Investigating Common Equity), says Claypool, to “support each other’s common interests. We have each others backs, rather than giving the district power to tear us apart.”

After uncovering more than $6 million in district funds and proposing ways the district could save $700,000 annually, JUSTICE fought off district proposals that would have negatively affected workers, according to Aaron Holmes, an assistive learning media specialist who serves on the union’s bargaining and benefits committees, and on the JUSTICE committee.

Holmes values the local’s relationship with faculty and wants to expand it. “We communicate constantly and have gained so much strength,” he says. “The district can no longer use us as pawns. Together we hold a lot more weight with the district.”

IN RIVERSIDE COUNTY, members of Menifee Council of Classified Employees have also benefited from sticking together. The local represents approximately 400 custodians, food service, clerical, security, bus drivers, tech aides, health aides, maintenance and other classified.

The Menifee Union School District has come to respect the union, says local President Frances Berumen, a technology aide for Menifee. “Instead of them just telling us ‘This is how we’re going to do it”…they seek our input. We try to work in collaboration, but we don’t let them run over us. We stand up to them.”

The newfound respect came after teachers went to impasse over furloughs. Berumen said classified did research and learned the district had reason to ask for furloughs. But classified countered district demand by tying the number of days to dollar amounts of budget shortfall. “By not just complaining, but researching,” the union showed that it could “find the most reasonable resolution.”

“…they seek our input. We try to work in collaboration, but we don’t let them run over us. We stand up to them. “— Frances Berumen, Technology Aide, Menifee Union School District

Though passage of Proposition 30 resolved the furlough issue, the local has benefited from its proactive efforts, such as dramatically stepping up union participation at district board meetings. A strong internal communications campaign persuaded members to raise dues to build the union.

At a time when just holding steady is difficult enough, the union negotiated improvements in professional development, higher pay for summer work, comp time flexibility for extra work, and better sick leave provisions.

“We want to do more for our people and make things more fair,” says Berumen. “Each year we try to accomplish a little more. Sometimes it seems like baby steps, but we are making improvements.”

— By Mindy Pines, CFT Reporter