Fighting for Respect

Fighting for Respect

Substitute teachers form union for better wages and job security

By Mariela Patron 07/03/2014

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Unable to find support from Pasadena’s teacher’s union, a group of substitute teachers has formed its own union and will decide later this year what organization will represent them during collective bargaining.
   
The choice is staying with its own organization, the newly formed Pasadena Substitute Teachers United (PTSU), or be represented by the Communications Workers of America (CWA). 
 
“We want to be valued and appreciated as employees which we don’t feel like we are,” said Dauna Marshall, a substitute teacher who has been working in the district for the past 10 years.
 
Last August, the school district announced it would decrease the pay of substitute teachers from $140 to $120 a day. Long-term substitutes and retired teachers were cut from $172 to $120 a day. The cuts became effective Sept. 1. Members of United Teachers of Pasadena (UTP) were given a 3 percent pay raise, beginning Jan. 1.
 
Last week, organizers turned in 110 signatures — well over the 30 percent of the district’s 224 subs required for certification — to the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB), the state agency responsible for enforcing collective bargaining laws covering public employees.
 
At the same time it was seeking support from UTP, the substitutes also turned to the CWA for help. However, members of the group were unhappy with the CWA and decided to form their own bargaining unit. The substitute teachers could vote later this year on whether to have the CWA or PSTU represent them in collective bargaining negotiations with the Pasadena school district.
 
Marshall said she attended a meeting hosted by the CWA two weeks ago during which it was explained how the union would help them. “I left the meeting with a new opinion of the CWA,” she said. “If the election was today I would go with the CWA.”
 
Other substitute teachers said they want to be represented by PSTU because its supporters have put in all the work in the fight to unionize. “[PSTU] sounds like we’re the ones in charge, not some rough and tough union,” said teacher Carol Varner. “I would much rather like to be a part of something with the Pasadena name in it.”
 
CWA representative Tony Gonzales said the union is not against PSTU. “We are just trying to represent people in the workplace,” Gonzales said. “Whatever happens, I hope it works out for substitute teachers.”
 
Union supporters said the pay cut has affected both the district’s substitute teachers and students. Varner said some people have decided to leave the district, which has created a shortage of substitutes. As a result, more students are being separated and sent to different classrooms when the school cannot find a substitute, she said. “Students need smaller class sizes so that the teacher could take care of their needs,” Varner said. “Sometimes the teacher doesn’t have enough work provided for them.”
 
Some substitutes said they are scared of being fired for speaking publicly about their support to unionize. “A lot of subs don’t want their name on anything,” Marshall said. “We don’t know what the school district might be capable of doing to us.”
 
Mike Okereke said he was fired from Focus Point Academy, a school staffed and funded by the district, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and Pacific Clinics, after he complained about unfair treatment of teachers at the school and spoke about the possibility of unionizing. “Anybody can fire [substitutes] at any time,” he said. “Substitute teachers are the weakest. It should not be easy to fire a substitute teacher.”

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