Courtesy Guillermo DurginTeachers in the Pacifica School District protest the district’s latest contract proposal. The biggest stumbling block is changes to health care benefits in the contract’s third year.

Pacifica teachers union contests health care options under proposed contract

On a recent cold, rainy night, protesters stood at the intersection of state Highway 1 and Reina Del Mar Avenue in Pacifica to send a message in support of local teachers.

The demonstrators — who have also carried picket signs at other locations and at the most recent school board meeting — are protesting a new teachers contract recently proposed by the Pacifica School District.

Formerly known as the Laguna Salada School District, the Pacifica School District is comprised of seven schools and serves kindergarten through eighth-grade students, along with preschool and special-needs students. The district's “last best offer” proposed a three-year contract that would raise teacher salaries by 2 percent per year, amounting to a 6 percent pay raise over the next three academic years.

The current dispute between the teachers and the district is primarily over changes to health care benefits taking effect in the contract's third year.

Teachers in the district are represented by the Laguna Salada Education Association. According to Jonathan Harris, who is a teacher at Ocean Shore Elementary School and co-chair of the LSEA negotiation team, the proposed contract caps third-year benefits so that employee health insurance compensation is equal to the cost of Kaiser Permanente coverage. But if the cost of Kaiser coverage increases by more than 1 percent per year, the difference will be deducted from teachers' salaries, Harris said.

Teachers who have chosen other health care providers, such as Blue Cross or Blue Shield, could suffer significant financial impacts under the proposal, according to Harris, who said many teachers in the district would pay an extra $600 per month to keep their current family health plans if the new contract is approved.

According to documents the school district established to answer questions about the contract, employees who want to keep their Blue Shield plans would pay an estimated monthly contribution of $250 for single coverage, $500 for two-party coverage, or $650 for a family plan.

Under the plan, Harris argued that some teachers in the district would see a net loss of as much as 14 percent of their pay if they kept their existing benefits.

“The district is calling this a pay increase, which we think it despicable,” Harris said.

Because the LSEA and the district have historically relied on the interest-based bargaining model of labor relations, in which district and union officials meet as one team to discuss their unilateral interests, it was a surprise when the district declared an impasse in September, Harris said.

Under collective bargaining law, either or both parties in a negotiation can declare an impasse, at which point the state appoints a mediator to attempt to resolve the matter.

District Assistant Superintendent Ray Avila said the district asked the LSEA if it wanted to mutually declare an impasse before the district did so on its own, and he added that an impasse does not signal an end to negotiations.

“We're very hopeful that when we meet in our next negotiation, we can come to an agreement,” Avila said.

The assistant superintendent acknowledged that the proposed contract would constitute a pay cut for teachers who choose certain health plans, but he suggested that affected employees could wait two years before deciding whether to avoid increased out-of-pocket expenses by switching to Kaiser coverage.

Avila added that providing stability and attracting and retaining teachers with equitable pay and benefits are priorities for the district.

“The school board 100 percent wants to make sure employees' families have medical coverage,” Avila said.

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