‘Edison Five’ Work Out Their Complaints
Mounds of blankets and clothes are in one corner.
A necktie hangs from a portrait on a wall.
Trousers drape from hangers along the ceiling.
One of the “Edison Five,” surveying the scene, says, “I guess it sort of looks like a fraternity house.”
But the five are not young college men living together for fun and good times. They are middle-aged teachers who have been staying around the clock for 15 days inside Edison High School to make a protest.
The “work-in” protest revolves around the lack of a new contract for the 584 teachers in the six high schools in Huntington Beach Union High School District. Negotiations between the teachers’ association and the district have broken off. Disagreement on a pay increase is one of the issues.
“We’re not here for 3% or 5% in pay raises but to let people know how dehumanizing the process of (contract) negotiation has been for the teachers,” said Michael Shimpock, 38, an Edison High history teacher.
Since May 3, Shimpock and four other Edison teachers have been living in the social sciences office of Edison High--a combination office-lounge that they say now resembles a fraternity house.
The “work-in” protest was launched, said Gary Rhoades, 43, a geography teacher, “because I was trying to think of what would make the board think better of me as a teacher . . . . I thought, ‘Well, maybe if I just worked around the clock.’ ”
Joining Rhoades and Shimpock in the “work-in” have been Ken Ammann, 42, a Model United Nations teacher; Don Leavey, 48, a world history teacher, and Peter Burwell, 50, an English and science teacher.
They have been sleeping on couches and on cushions on the floor. They have been eating food brought by parents who support their move--although Rhoades has been on what he described as a liquid fast to underscore his protest.
“I’ve lost about 16 pounds,” said a gaunt-looking Rhoades on Monday. “I get a little dizzy at times, but if I feel weak, I’ll eat a dab of peanut butter.”
In joint interviews Monday, the five teachers all said they hoped they are making “a positive statement” about their feelings.
School administration officials said in separate interviews that they think the teachers have made a point--and have done so without disrupting school at Edison High.
“It’s a positive protest, and I respect them for it,” said Stephen Smith, a member of the Huntington Beach Union High School board of trustees. “This is something positive, where a protest like a ‘sick-in’ is not because that’s really a form of cheating.”
Catherine McGough, administrative assistant to District Supt. Marie Otto, said both she and Otto also view the “work-in” as being non-disruptive and as “making a statement and making a very positive one.”
Christine Rice, acting Edison High principal, said the “work-in” had caused no problems at the school. “I think it’s been very low-key and positive,” she said.
The protesting teachers said Monday that they are pleased that their message is being well received. But they expressed bitterness over the contract negotiations.
“The district is using a professional contract negotiator, and all we have are teachers who negotiate for us,” said Shimpock. “The district is using the attitude, ‘Take it or leave it.’ ”
District officials, in counterpoint, have said that they made several offers to the teachers’ organization and that the teachers voted down a proposed 3% increase. “We’ve tried to make a compromise also on the mandatory union issue,” said Smith. “They (the teachers’ negotiators) wouldn’t accept our plan to require new teachers to join the union but not to force all the existing teachers.”
On the pay issue, William Bianchi, executive director of the union that represents the Huntington Beach Union High School District teachers, said Monday that the teachers are seeking a 4% pay raise for the current school year. The district, he said, will not increase its 3% offer. (Either figure would be retroactive to July 1, 1984.) “And so we don’t have any negotiations scheduled,” said Bianchi.
The stalemate, said Rhoades, means “we’ll stay here (inside Edison High School) until graduation Thursday night. Then we’ll be able to go home.”
In the meantime, the protest is capturing increased attention, according to both administration and teachers.
“Parents come to see us and bring us food every night,” said Shimpock.
Said Rhoades: “I broke into tears the other night when, unexpectedly, a group of teachers from Westminster High came by carrying candles and sang, ‘We Shall Overcome.’ ”
A psychology teacher, Ben Taylor, was visiting his protesting colleagues Monday afternoon. He wore a T-shirt that read: “Free The Edison Five.”
The protesters agreed that the 15 days in the high school had been long, tiring days. “We’re doing a lot of work, such as working on our teaching plans for next year,” said Rhoades.
Still, he said, they will be glad when Thursday comes. And he said that even though negotiations have remained stalled, “maybe we’ve been somewhat successful . . . . Teachers had all but given up, but now the mood seems to be more positive . . . . I think it’s turned around.”