Fullerton Teachers, District Agree on Contract Proposal

Times Staff Writer

A little more than 24 hours after its teachers had overwhelmingly voted to strike, the Fullerton Joint Union High School District agreed with the teachers union on a proposed new contract and pay raise.

The agreement would give the teachers less money than they wanted, but they would get a major administrative tool: binding arbitration in non-monetary disputes.

"We're disappointed about the money, but we feel we made an important gain in teachers' rights in securing binding arbitration," said Terry Welborn, a union official.

District Supt. Robert Martin said, "I'm pleased that the parties could arrive at an agreement that is beneficial to all of us."

The proposed contract, which must still be ratified by most of the 494 teachers in the district and also by the district's trustees, was agreed upon Tuesday night by union and district negotiators. Teachers voted by secret ballot Monday to authorize a strike, with no date set for a walkout.

Working rights and pay were main items of contention in the yearlong talks, Welborn said.

The Fullerton high school teachers' old contract expired June 30. That contract, which has remained in effect pending a new one, has pay that ranges from $20,661 for a beginning teacher to $45,048 for the most senior instructor.

The district said Wednesday that under the new contract, pay would range from $21,151 to $46,116.

The union, the Fullerton Secondary Teachers Organization, initially called for an 8% pay raise retroactive to September, but lowered the demand to 4.5% during final talks, Welborn said.

The district offered what it called "a 3.5% total compensation package." In the settlement Tuesday night, the union agreed to that 3.5% package.

The package has two parts: a 2.37% regular pay increase retroactive to Sept. 8 and a 1.13% increase in so-called "step-and-column" seniority pay. Teachers automatically advance to higher pay brackets by various "steps and columns" on charts that mark number of years served and credits in advanced education. The 1.13% increase would make those automatic pay raises somewhat higher in each bracket.

Welborn said the proposed new contract would guarantee that teachers will get their automatic seniority pay increases each year, regardless of how contract talks are faring. In previous contracts, the district could withhold such automatic pay boosts if contract talks went beyond September of any year.

Welborn also said the union sees binding arbitration in non-monetary disputes as an important gain. Under such arbitration, an unresolved grievance by a teacher could ultimately be judged by a neutral labor specialist provided by state government. The arbitrator's judgment would be final and binding on both sides.

The proposed contract would be for three years, with the pay raise percentage spelled out in only the current, 1987-88 school year.

In the next two years, the contract would allow new talks for pay raises in each of those years. Also, the contract would allow both the district and the union to renegotiate one other item of their choice in the 1989-90 school year.

Union president Sandra (Cricket) Virden said Wednesday: "I have no doubt but that the strike-authorization vote was a big factor in bringing this agreement about. The teachers did not vote in vain."

Welborn agreed: "I think the vote made the school board realize it needed to come to a settlement."

Welborn is executive director of the North Orange County United Teachers, the umbrella union of which the secondary teachers organization is a unit.

Shirley Finton, spokeswoman for the school district, said the school board will consider the proposed contract after the teachers vote on it. The teachers' vote is scheduled early in May, she said.

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