Teachers in Union City say they're ready to strike

Teachers in the New Haven Unified School District are preparing to strike next week if an agreement over pay isn’t reached.

The New Haven Teachers Association is in a contract dispute with the New Haven Unified School District. The teacher’s union had asked for a 20% raise over two years, but said the district came back at zero at the start of negotiations. The union said the increase in pay is needed to attract and retain qualified teachers and provide students with resources.

Kimberly Debono is a third grade teacher at Tom Kitayama Elementary School in Union City. She said a 20% raise was the starting point for negotiations, but the district hasn’t budged. She said teachers are disappointed and feel undervalued. 

“We have shown our commitment to this district,” Debono said. “We have shown our commitment to our kids. It's time for the district to show their commitment to us and the community.”

Debono said teachers recently voted overwhelmingly to strike on Monday, May 20 if a deal isn’t reached.

“The fact that they're willing to cram 30 children into a classroom tells me that they are not really thinking about the children and they're not really thinking about the teachers,” she said.

John Mattos, spokesman for the New Haven Unified School District said the district does value its teachers. He said the district is struggling financially and has seen a pattern of declining enrollment. He said the district is willing to give a little in negotiations, but noted that the teachers’ salary is the only thing on the negotiating table, not class sizes.

“They are amazing people who work really hard and do great things for our kids, period,” Mattos said of the district’s teachers. “They deserve a raise. They absolutely deserve a raise. We just can't give it to them.”

Mattos said New Haven teachers are the highest paid in Alameda County at an average total compensation of $98,000.

Lisa Rodriguez, a parent, said she worries about the impact of a strike on her children. She has a child in 6th grade and another who is a senior in high school and is concerned about their grades and after school activities as the near the end of the school year in June. Still, she stands by teachers.

“[The district] knew last year that this was going to be an issue and they should have at least started to work toward some kind of solution. Seeing that it's gotten to this point is frustrating,” Rodriguez said.

On Tuesday, teachers across the district walked out of their classrooms after school with their personal belongings in preparation for the strike. The district said it would call in substitute teachers and fill schools with administrative personnel if a strike does happen.

There are roughly 11,400 students in the New Haven Unified School District. Another bargaining session between the district and the teacher’s union is set for Wednesday.