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NORWALK - For the first time in six years, Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District employees will receive an increase in salary and health benefits after the teachers' union reached a tentative agreement with school district officials on Monday.
Following months of teacher protests and other organizing events, Kelley Rush, president of the Teachers Association of Norwalk-La Mirada, says the union and district liaisons were able to hash out a deal that eases the burden for employees, straddled with rising health care costs and stagnant wages.
"There's still more work to be done on the language, but we were able to get the district to give a one-time contribution of $9,800 per employee towards health care costs," said Rush. "And if ratified by our members, effective Jan. 1, we will receive a 3.125 percent increase in salary."
Rush praised the compromise, which marks the district's first salary increase since the 2007-08 fiscal year.
While Norwalk-La Mirada employees were hoping for a health benefit package similar to the one offered in the Downey Unified School District, which pays 90 percent of its employees' health insurance costs, Rush says the tentative deal does help shield employees from future health care increases.
"The district is going to pay the first $600,000 of any increases -- that will help eliminate the poison pill in our contract, which allows all increases to fall onto employees," said Rush. "The district will pay its fair share of the increases."
The district currently pays a fixed amount of $9,000 towards employees' medical benefits, requiring employees to pick up the slack when insurance premiums rise.
With state funding vanishing and enrollment declining, Rush said she understood why increasing salaries wasn't a priority for the board of education.
"For us to get a 3.125 percent increase is a good settlement. That's a $15.1 million agreement over three years for all employees and administrators," she said. "We're winners in a sense, but our work is not complete. Health care costs are still not equitable to all our members -- we need to fix the system."
Despite the tumultuous bout of negotiations, Rush stood behind the union's organizing efforts, which she believes got the district to the table.
"Absolutely -- last month, all three candidates we endorsed to the school board were elected, we got a good settlement with a salary increase and help with health benefits," she said. "And next May it starts all over again."
TANLA, which represents more than 980 teachers, counselors, and speech pathologists, is set to meet with district officials again on Dec. 10.
Rush predicts an agreement will be ratified by union members before the end of the year.
Published: Nov. 28, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 33