California board forces Sacramento City Unified into mediation with teachers

The California Public Employment Relations Board on Monday forced the Sacramento City Unified School District into mediation with teachers over allegations that the district unilaterally changed health care providers in violation of a labor contract.

The board, which filed a complaint on Monday, sets the stage for the two sides to seek resolution next week or face a formal hearing before an administrative law judge.

District spokesman Gabe Ross said that a complaint filed by the state board is “not a decision.”

“It’s early,” he said, “and we look forward to the rest of the process where we’ll have an opportunity in an informal conference as well as a formal hearing” to make the district’s case.

The 2,200-member Sacramento City Teachers Association filed an unfair labor practice claim with the state contending the school district’s unilateral switch in health insurers for 2015 violates state employment law, breaches its contract and threatens to disrupt medical care for employees and retirees.

The Public Employment Relations Board typically issues a complaint when an allegation, on its face, appears to be true, according to the board’s website.

Officials for the union, representing teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses and other employees, said Monday the state board’s quick response to their Oct. 29 claim gives them hope that the planned health changes might be undone before year’s end.

“I think this is a clear indication that what the district has done is illegal and needs to be changed,” SCTA President Nikki Milevsky said. “When we meet on (Monday), it’s an opportunity for the district to correct their mistake before anyone gets harmed and before it costs the district a lot of money.”

The district eliminated Health Net as a health insurance option starting in January. It held open enrollment in November, during which employees were asked to choose Kaiser, an existing health insurer, or shift to Sutter Health Plus and Western Health Advantage HMO.

The district negotiated those changes with four of its labor groups, including bus drivers, office managers, principals and plant managers, but did not negotiate the changes with the teachers union.

In a Dec. 4 letter to PERB, the district cited a “strict legal deadline” on one aspect of the shift – quitting a contract with the California Public Employees Retirement System.

The district has relied on CalPERS to administer health insurance options for its other four large labor groups: United Professional Educators, Classified Supervisors Association, Teamsters and the Service Employees International Union. But district officials saw ways to save $6 million to $8 million the first year by combining those employees and teachers into the same plans. To accomplish that, the district said it was required to move quickly to inform CalPERS that it would no longer rely on CalPERS to administer any of its plans.

Ross said Sacramento City Unified “remains focused on our priorities right now in ensuring that all of our employees and retirees have the health care they need and deserve and continuing to have an eye on the long-term fiscal health of the district.”

Call The Bee’s Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee.