When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to close last year, the Lodi Unified School District reached an agreement with its teachers union to extend the 2020-21 school year to make up additional professional development time.

The district did not make similar agreements with other labor unions, and members of those groups will be receiving a much lower pay rate than teachers between June 4 and 10.

As a result, many California School Employees Association members employed with Lodi Unified will not be reporting for work that week.

“Lodi’s classified staff have sat down in good faith with district leadership to negotiation equitable compensation nine times this year, and nine times we’ve been treated with disrespect and dismissal,” CSEA bargaining chair Desiree Wise said in a media statement released Tuesday evening.

“We have kept our schools running throughout the pandemic, serving on the front lines to keep our students safe, learning and fed,” she said. “Our food service staff have been feeding our entire community at great risk to their own health, and our support staff have delivered meals, maintained schools, adapted technology for distance learning and provided our students one-on-one attention to help mitigate lost learning opportunities.”

Hundreds of CSEA members rallied outside the James Areida Educational Center at 1305 E. Vine St. for the second time Tuesday night, protesting what it believes is the district’s refusal to negotiate both compensation for essential work performed during the pandemic, as well as a new contract for the 2021-22 academic year.

In Tuesday’s media statement, the union claimed that more than 450 classified employees in the district earn less than $15 an hour. Most of these employees work in the nutrition services department, the union said, the very staff who have been working at district campuses to feed students and the community during the pandemic.

The union estimated nutrition services employees prepared and served more than 600,000 meals to the Lodi community during the last 14 months.

Classified employees in the district have asked for “hazard pay” compensation as essential workers as designated by the State of California who remained on school sites the last 14 months, the union said, and have asked for hazard pay as they will continue to provide services to students and staff through summer school.

According to the union, the district has offered its bargaining unit less than 20% of the compensation it offered to the LEA earlier this year.

In April, the district ratified a new memorandum of understanding with the teachers union that made members serving distance-learning students eligible for timecard work for as much as 10 hours a week for services provided outside the regular contract day, at the rate of $50 an hour.

In addition, all LEA members employed between April 12 and June 30 will receive a one-time, off-schedule payment equal to 3% of Cell D10 on their salary schedule. As an example, a teacher earning $67,882 will receive a one-time payment of $2,036.46.

On May 18, the LUSD board of education ratified an agreement retroactive to July 1, 2019 and ending June 30, 2021, that gives the union a little more than $170 million in total compensation, which includes salaries, health benefits and retirement benefits.

The union will receive a COLA of 3.26% for the 2019/2020 school year, but no adjustment for the 2020/2021 year, according to the agreement.

District superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer announced Wednesday that services will be reduced June 4-10 due to the staffing shortage, and parents and guardians will be notified if their students will be impacted.

The nutrition services department will continue to provide food based on what can be prepared, she said, and transportation department staff will contact parents and guardians if bus service will be reduced.

Washer said the district is offering the CSEA an ongoing salary increase of 3.26% through 2023, retroactive to the 2019-20 school year, as well one-time compensation to implement in-person instruction to classified employees. She said the offers are in alignment with those made to other employee groups, but the CSEA has proposed a 22% ongoing salary increase, double pay for all union members for work days between June 4 and July 26, and a one-time stipend significantly higher than any other group has received.

“The district appreciates and acknowledges the tremendous work of our employees in CSEA,” Washer said in her Wednesday announcement.

“We want to be clear that all of our classified employees are essential to our district and they provide vital services to our Lodi Unified community,” she said. “The CSEA’s proposal creates a significant disparity between our employee groups and is not tenable for our district. We remain committed to working with CSEA and all employee groups as we focus on our goal of providing the best education for all students.”

Both the CSEA and LEA said in Tuesday media statements that the district received some $120 million in additional funding to mitigate COVID-19 impacts, and that it should be able to provide competitive wages to classified employees with that funding over the next three years.

Michelle Orgon, president of the LEA, said in a Tuesday media statement that the union was sympathetic to the CSEA’s bargaining position, and that teachers would be joining classified employees at the rally outside the James Areida Educational Center.

“The district’s lack of planning has created a crisis that threatens classroom services, the safety of special education students as well as meal and transportation services and could potentially result in Lodi Unified students having to return to distance learning for the last five days of the year,” Orgon said. “Our classified colleagues ensure the safety and well-being of our students and they deserve our district’s respect.”

In her statement Wednesday, Washer said that in order to use the one-time COVID-19 impact funds from state and federal grants, including those impacting staff, it must adhere to funding requirements. According to the U.S. Department of Education, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, as well as Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funding may be used for costs associated with learning, technology, or extending the school year or school day to provide additional time for student enrichment and support. Those costs, the DOE said, “may include supplementing the salaries of educators and other qualified personnel to perform additional services.”

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