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San Diego Teachers Vote for a Union Shop

TIMES STAFF WRITER

More than 73% of San Diego city schools teachers have approved a proposal to require all of them to pay mandatory union dues beginning next July, increasing the coffers of their bargaining agent, the San Diego Teachers Assn., by one-fourth.

Ballots were counted Wednesday by the state Public Employees Relations Board on the proposal that school district trustees agreed in November 1988 to allow a vote on, in return for the union assenting to a four-year contract.

Of the 6,418 teachers eligible to vote, 4,194 returned valid ballots, with 3,963 yes votes and 1,131 no votes.

The results for the so-called “closed shop” puts San Diego teachers into the same position as those in other major urban educational systems in California--Oakland, Los Angeles, Long Beach, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento and San Jose--who pay for representation whether or not they agree with the philosophy of organized labor.

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Up until now, only about 4,100, or 60% of the district’s teachers have been paying members of the union, although all teachers receive the same wages and benefits negotiated by the union and are entitled to representation in case of grievances against a principal or other administrator.

The union will lower its $500 annual dues by $20 as a result of being able to collect from all teachers, Hugh Boyle, SDTA president, said Wednesday. Boyle estimated that some members will only pay 80% of the annual fees by forgoing optional services such as group liability insurance and legal benefits.

Both Boyle and union executive director Bill Harju said Wednesday that the closed shop will allow the union more flexibility in pursuing efforts not traditionally thought of as within a labor union’s purview. Those include the nascent collaborations under way with the school district on a wide variety of ways to change classroom instruction and to give teachers more responsibility for running schools.

“Before, our best membership drive recruiting was when we would point to a bad principal” and encourage people to join, Harju said. Now, Harju and Boyle said, they can pursue precedent-breaking avenues without necessarily losing members who object to closer union-district relations.

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Added Frank Graham-Caso, a teacher at Mira Mesa High and longtime union member: “I think this will result in a more positive working relationship with the district and less confrontation.”

Graham-Caso said the results will eliminate a lot of tension at schools where some members have felt that non-members “were getting free rides” and where principals have sometimes used “divide-and-conquer” tactics between those who belonged to the union and those who did not.

“Some non-members even said that they would vote for this,” he said. “They were looking for a rationale to pay their fair share”

The union will use some of its added funds to hire more staff to handle teacher complaints and will send more teachers to conferences on developing new ways of teaching. The union might expand its own small projects to lessen racial stereotyping by teachers and enhance multicultural instruction, Boyle said.

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District Supt. Tom Payzant said Wednesday that the traditional apprehension he and other administrators might otherwise feel about a more powerfully funded union are lessened by the new relationship being built between the two sides.

“In the traditional adversarial relationship, the extra resources would go into fueling conflict, confrontation and contention,” Payzant said. “I don’t have the concerns here, assuming the positive, collaborative relationship that we are developing continues.”


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