Covina-Valley school district teachers strike is averted with tentative agreement

Teachers walk on a sidewalk with signs reading "Honk to Support Teachers" and "We Stand United"
Teachers rally outside Covina-Valley Unified School District headquarters Wednesday just before the resumption of negotiations. A last-minute deal averted a strike set for Thursday.
(Howard Blume / Los Angeles Times)

Teachers union leaders called off a strike set for today at the Covina-Valley Unified School District after reaching a tentative agreement late Wednesday night with officials of the 13,400-student school system.

“Schools will be open and will continue on a normal schedule tomorrow, Dec. 1,” Supt. Elizabeth Eminhizer announced in an email to families in the east San Gabriel Valley district. “We look forward to continuing to provide our students with enriching instruction and extracurricular activities.”

“We are grateful to our outstanding teaching staff for the work that they do with our students to provide them with educational excellence, every day,” she added.


The union sent out an announcement as well: “A teacher strike in Covina-Valley Unified School District has been narrowly averted as a clock-is-ticking bargaining session today has produced a tentative agreement.”

Both announcements were made not long before midnight.

The strike, had it happened, would have been an early test case for K-12 labor disputes in the post-pandemic landscape. For the most part, school districts in California are flush with record funding due to COVID-19 relief aid and record state tax revenues. But much of this money is one-time aid or based on tax revenues that state officials warn are not certain to persist at current levels.

The settlement came after hundreds of teachers protested in front of district headquarters Wednesday morning. The union described the tentative pact as a compromise that addresses a key sticking point, a cap on health benefits that would have burdened recently hired and future teachers with higher health costs.

The compromise avoids a two-tier structure for employee benefits that the district had wanted. The district had been pushing for new employees to have to pay more over time for healthcare for dependents. The district had asserted that, overall, its benefits proposal would have remained generous under the proposed structure.

The union wanted to maintain the status quo on benefits, arguing that the district could afford to do so.

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Under the tentative agreement, which workers must ratify, employees retain benefits with no premium costs except under the most expensive plan, just as before. But, over time, the cost of healthcare for dependents will rise. As of Jan. 1, employee contributions to dependent coverage increase to two to three times current amounts, “but still remain low,” according to the district. And starting Jan. 1, 2024, the district will cover 80% and unit members will pick up 20% of medical plan premium increases.

This benefits the district because there is cost-sharing related to future increases in health costs. The win for the union is that for recent and new employees, the terms exclude a “hard cap” on what the district will pay for dependent benefits, which could have added significantly more to costs over time.


The new agreement also includes a 5.2% increase in salary for the 2021-22 school year and a 7% increase for the current school year.

Both sides had already been in agreement on the size of the raise for 2021-22. However, the amount of increase for the current school year had not been set. The union proposed a 10% increase at the time the two sides entered “fact-finding,” which is part of the state’s mediation process in labor bargaining.

In addition, the union had wanted all former employees covered by the raise for time periods in which they worked. Instead, as part of the overall compromise, the retroactive raises would cover only departed workers who were employed as of July 1.

Under the deal, special education teachers would receive extra pay for added responsibilities related to the case management of students with disabilities — more than the district had proposed but not as much as the union had asked for.

Entering Wednesday, an agreement had seemed far from certain. The district had been posting updates online, as had the union.

Negotiations began at 9 a.m., shortly after the early morning rally that drew more than 300 participants. Teachers returned to district headquarters after school to demonstrate again.

The school system serves Covina, West Covina, Glendora, San Dimas, Irwindale and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. It has nine elementary schools, three middle schools, three comprehensive high schools, a continuation school and an online school, as well as preschool and adult education.

Close to 70% of district students are from low-income families, and about 80% are Latino.

The district employs about 575 teachers. The teachers union also represents the district’s nurses and speech pathologists.