PCS Teachers’ Union and School Enter Mediation Phase of Bargaining

Kai Tao

Roughly one year ago on the 15 of August, the PCS faculty began the long process of unionization, believing such a union to be a step forward for school-teacher relations and beneficial for the school environment. 

In response to the comparatively low pay, high job turn-over rate, and rising cost of living heavily affecting teachers when working at PCS, a majority of its faculty decided to form a union for the sake of rectifying these issues and instituting worker protections. 

The process of unionization began with a formal petition, in conjunction with the California Teachers Association, and consisted in negotiation between the “United PCS” union and the governing faculty of the school. The negotiations and their results are as of yet unclear as the school and the united teachers have reached an impasse—meaning that the contrary wishes of the two groups are not immediately reconcilable and that outside mediation is required. 

Mediation, which is held in all-day meetings–two of which have already taken place–sees a representative of the State Mediation Board appear in the negotiations to act as a disconnected and impartial observer. Although the mediator is acting in an official capacity, they have no coercive power and the school and teachers will have to come to a formal agreement by themselves. 

Mr. Lai, an Algebra 2 and AP Computer Science teacher who has been heavily involved in the process of unionization, is optimistic that a compromise can be reached, saying that both sides would “very much like an agreement,” while asserting that both sides had been attempting to be reasonable in their communications. 

As to current progress concerning United PCS, tentative agreements have been reached, but negotiation are continuing on specific issues. According to several teachers interviewed, one major outstanding issue is teacher salaries, which are considerably lower than other local teaching jobs and incompatible with the high cost of living in Santa Cruz. 

One teacher, when interviewed, described this incongruence as a “core issue” in the process. As well as teacher pay, other key issues at impasse include the desire formalize standard teacher complaint discipline practices, duties, and procedures—an issue that is more relevant than ever at PCS following the recent change of leadership—and formalize a voice for the teachers at PCS in school governance as well as evaluating the school’s leadership. All the issues essentially boil down, as one teacher said, to a central point of “protection and community” for those working at PCS. 

Despite the many unknowns and possibilities, Mr. Cohn, a PCS history teacher, remains optimistic, saying that while the change will not be instantaneous, he believes in the role of unions. Further, the first contract may, and likely will, be one of many versions as problems continue to be worked out because for the teachers of PCS unionization is not a one time fix but a long term solution.