Another View: Enforcing contract is not declaration of war

Nikki Milevsky
Nikki Milevsky

Teachers appreciate The Bee editorial board’s focus on our concerns regarding the Sacramento City School District’s unlawful health plan changes. But instead of holding the district accountable for its commitments, the editorial (“Union contract conflict threatens district détente,” Nov. 22) gives the false impression that expecting the district to honor our contract is a declaration of war. The facts speak otherwise.

Two months ago, the teachers and the school board ratified a new, two-year contract that made no changes to the health plans for retired or active teachers. Once ratified, the agreement becomes an enforceable, legal contract in which both parties accept all contract terms – the bedrock of the collective bargaining process between a union and an employer.

Even while acknowledging that the teachers may be right, the editorial appears to condone the district’s effort to choose unilaterally which provisions it wishes to honor. The district has falsely claimed that the benefits are equal to or better than current benefits, while saving the district millions. When something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. That’s the case here. Many of our members may have to change doctors or hospitals, even in the midst of treatment. Those out of the immediate service area may lose coverage.

Exacerbating the problem, the inept implementation of changes could mean that teachers and retirees who are unable to sign up for the new health plan may be left entirely without coverage, through no fault of their own.

Because the changes are unlawful, the district faces the probability of being forced to undo those health plans and to make up out-of-pocket costs of any who are adversely affected. Legal costs will mount as the district continues to defend its unlawful decision.

The district has already begun to spend the purported “savings” – funds that are likely unrecoverable. Most controversial, it is increasing take-home pay for administrative staff.

The district’s actions undermine the rhetoric of the new superintendent who promotes more inclusion and collaboration. Who can trust a leadership team that won’t even honor legally enforceable agreements?

When the school board adopted our contract, we looked forward to working together to continue to improve Sacramento’s public school system. But we expect that agreements will be honored and commitments will be kept. Enforcing this expectation is not “going to war,” it is ensuring respect.

Nikki Milevsky, a psychologist in the Sacramento City Unified School District, is president of Sacramento City Teachers Association.