SEIU Local 99 reached a tentative agreement with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) on April 30. Last Thursday, the union reported that the agreement was ratified by the rank-and-file by a large margin. Local 99’s bargaining unit had spent around eight months at the table with SMMUSD. In recent months, Local 99 mobilized to fight for a better contract by staging informational pickets and speaking out at board meetings. Increased wages, benefits, and hours were central to their negotiations with the district.

They won all three in the new contract. The agreement includes an 18 percent wage increase, a $1,000 bonus, increased hours for workers who play critical roles in student safety and health, and better healthcare benefits for part-time workers. The wage increase will occur incrementally over the next two years, including a retroactive increase starting from January of this year. The agreement also removes contingencies to the wage increase and includes a higher increase than the district initially offered. 

Local 99 represents education workers across the county — many workers who staff the district, excluding teachers, fall under the union’s umbrella. Custodians, school nurses, bus drivers, special education assistants, and teaching assistants are some of the professions included in their unit. They have long been advocating for a livable wage for SMMUSD workers, an issue inflamed by proposed layoffs and budget cuts in the district.  

In March, Local 99 was rallying behind Physical Activities staff facing layoffs. Sixteen workers, who the union said “Provide essential physical education and mental health support” to students were set to be laid off. The union says due to their organizing, the number of layoffs was reduced to nine workers.  

Local 99 won a guaranteed minimum wage for its members in their previous contract, which went into effect last July. The average salary for classified workers in the district is $47,461. The wage increase they secured this week will eventually bring the average to $55,390. This still leaves most Local 99 workers in SMMUSD in the “low income” range according to the California Department of Housing and Community Development, but is a welcome advancement for union members and leadership.

SEIU Local 99 Executive Director Max Arias called the contract “A step in the right direction toward recognizing the essential work of front-line workers and their contribution to student learning.” This contract benefits their members and the students that they care for.

Alex Hernandez-Cisneros, a custodian at Lincoln Middle School, said the contract is an “Investment in student services.” He added that fair wages enable the district to “Retain and recruit experienced staff to contribute essential services for student learning.” 

Union members have long argued that their pay and benefits should reflect the district’s acknowledgment of their value. Last year, a bus driver with SMMUSD, Kathy Yates, said “I’m essential to education because I am the first and last person that students see in the morning before they get to school and when they get home safely from my bus.” By adequately compensating their workers, the district ensures continued and sustained support for their students.

SMMUSD Superintendent Antonio Shelton praised district officials for working to reach a tentative agreement during the district’s board meeting this week. He said the agreement allowed people to “feel valued” moving forward. The last step for the agreement is for the SMMUSD Board to ratify it at their next meeting. 

As teacher and staff appreciation week comes to a close, Local 99 celebrates its win and looks forward to more advances in the future. 

Photo by Jengod / CC-BY-SA-4.0 from Wiki Commons

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