In Partnership with 74

School support union asking LAUSD for same benefit package for all

Mike Szymanski | October 2, 2015

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Max Arias of SEIU Local 99

The union representing school support personnel is pressing LAUSD to provide the same health benefits for all its members, fearing that the district wants to create a second-class level of employees.

Among the 35,000 members of Service Employees International Union Local 99 (SEIU) are about 7,000 who work as teacher aides, community representatives, after-school coaches and out-of-school program workers. These employees do not have access to LA Unified’s health plan because it is either too expensive, or they are not eligible.

“Some of our workers could be eligible for health care if they work one more hour, and others can’t afford the insurance offered with the 50 percent co-pay,” SEIU Local 99 executive director Max Arias told LA School Report. “We want all these people to get access to health care.”

The issue arose in June with an SEIU proposal to cover the workers; SEIU was expecting a counter-proposal. Instead, the district offered possible suggestions for the workers in the job categories in question, known as F and G units, that could include a new high-deductible plan, reduced benefits for new employees, no coverage for dependents and a cut in retirement benefits.

The teachers union, UTLA, has also expressed concerns about possible cuts in health benefits by the district. The district said no decisions have been made.

“We are worried that the options they are coming up with are even more extreme,” Arias said. “Sometimes, the only person who asks a child, ‘Did you do your homework today?’ is a bus driver or TA or one of our workers. We want the district to come up with a counter proposal and come back to the table again.”

Bargaining team member Andrea Weathersby, who works as a teacher assistant at Purche Elementary School, said that the district was unprepared at their meeting to respond.

“I believe four months is sufficient amount of time to look at our proposal and come up with some alternatives if they did not agree,” she said. “But to not even take the time to make a counter proposal means they are not taking us seriously. It seems that the district doesn’t want all employees to have healthcare.”

A district spokesman said no decisions have been made that would resolve the negotiations.

SEIU leaders said they want to avoid creating a second-class level of employees with lower benefits. They are urging their members to attend the next school board meeting on Oct. 13

“It is not a protest. We need to give the school board information and tell our stories, because we know some of the school board members support us,” Arias said. “We do not want to create an action that will make them uncomfortable.”

As one example, he cited a 70-year-old part-time worker who isn’t eligible for health care. “These are dedicated employees, and the school board needs to hear their stories so they can explain it to the public,” Arias said.

The union is also collecting cards and petition signatures online. So far, no more negotiation sessions are scheduled, but Arias said, “We can and will mobilize if we have to.”

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