Petaluma teachers work to contract amid labor dispute

The week-long work-to-rule action comes at a time of tense negotiations between the Petaluma teachers union and the school district.|

Petaluma public schools this week were noticeably quieter than normal after the school day ended, and staff parking lots were empty soon after the final bell rang. All this week, teachers have been working to the specific terms of their contract, meaning no after school homework help, no lesson planning, no writing letters of recommendation, and no other work-related tasks teachers routinely do in their free time.

The union that represents Petaluma teachers last week voted for the so-called work-to-rule designation, which is one step short of a strike, after labor negotiations with the school district have failed to produce a contract.

Petaluma City Schools District teachers have been without a contract for nearly a year, and the Petaluma Federation of Teachers, which represents 360 permanent teachers, voted for the week-long action after the latest round of contract negotiations failed last week. Teachers say the work-to-rule demonstration is the last step before going on strike.

“We’re always hopeful that we can negotiate and get some decent proposals,” said Suzanne Garcia, the chief negotiator for the union. “A work stoppage will be our next step.”

Garcia said the teachers are asking for two days for teachers to plan lessons and organize their classrooms, and 48 hours notice for mandatory district meetings.

They also want to restore the option for teachers that are at least 55 years of age and have worked a minimum of 10 years in the district to have the retirement option of a reduced workload and maintain retirement benefits, and they want a 2 percent pay increase on top of last year’s salary, which included a 2 percent bonus that was not awarded this year.

Superintendent Gary Callahan said that the district is operating with a deficit due to a state mandated increase in pension contributions.

“The pension increase created a structural deficit that we have to deal with,” he said. “The teachers have every right to be frustrated. We want to do right by our folks.”

According to a district summary of the latest round of negotiations, the district has agreed to the 48-hour meeting notice and the two teacher work days. In addition, the district proposed to work with the union to develop a “limited term reduced workload program retirement incentive option.”

On the salary issue, which appears to be the main sticking point, the district has proposed to revisit salaries after the 2016-17 finances are audited later this year. The district has already identified budget cuts for the next three years, and the district’s proposal states that “with additional cuts between $500,000 to $1 million, the district would be able to potentially provide an ongoing 1.5 percent salary increase for all bargaining units, retroactive to July 1, 2016.”

Sandra Larsen, president of the Petaluma Federation of Teachers, said the union and district would sit down at the table again next week. Depending on the results of this week’s action, the teachers will plan their next move, she said.

“The number one goal is to avoid a strike and show the district that we are united,” she said of the work-to-rule action. “The community all thinks that we work six hours a day. But actually, we work 12 hours a day and on weekends.”

On Monday, soon after school let out, about 100 teachers gathered at Walnut Park and held signs with slogans such as “Better wages better teachers.” The demonstration, which coincided with marches around the world to mark International Workers’ Day, was meant to highlight the Petaluma teachers working to rule.

At the rally, Krista O’Connor, Petaluma Federation of Teachers high school vice president, laid out what the teachers would like from the district.

“We are asking that our school board and our district management team honor our professionalism by agreeing to add contract language that allows us to do our job more effectively,” she said. “Use shared decision making to include teachers in decisions that affect our workday and working conditions. Make fair and equitable compensation for employees a priority. We must be able to take care of business through good planning and wise spending.”

(Argus-Courier photographer Crissy Pascual contributed to this report. Contact Matt Brown at

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