Hart district classified staff request higher wages, benefits

Filling the parking lot and then the boardroom ahead of the trustees’ regular meeting, the classified staff members of the William S. Hart Union High School District requested Wednesday evening that district administrators and board members approve a new agreement that would increase their pay and benefits .

According to the leadership team of California School Employees Association, or CSEA, Chapter 349, the union representing the Hart district’s classified employees, said they are the lowest paid employees in the district, and some have seen their wages deteriorate relatively by as much as 58 % since 2015, with respect to the rising rate of minimum wage.

They also said, both during a rally held in front of the district office in the hours leading up to the governing board meeting, that they, as it stands right now, pay 33% out of pocket to cover health care premiums, while teachers and administrator pay 12%. CSEA members also said they are the only employee group that pays for their own vision and dental.

Attendees hold signs as cars honk as they pass during a protest in front of the William S. Hart Union School District offices in Santa Clarita on Wednesday, 060822. Dan Watson/The Signal

“It’s been a difficult time over these last several years, and we are putting our heart and soul into this work,” said Jordan Meraz, who works in IT at the district office. “We feel that we are deserving of getting a cost-of-living raise, we’re deserving of being paid, and more than that, getting those health benefits to bring us on par with all the other employees in the district.”

Meraz added that CSEA employees have a fixed cap of up to $14,500 in coverage a year, while teachers and management are covered up to $18,333.60.

“We’re getting paid less, and we also pay significantly more,” Meraz added.

Hart district officials declined to comment Wednesday night on the ongoing labor negotiations.

Attendees hold signs as cars honk as they pass during a protest in front of the William S. Hart Union School District offices in Santa Clarita on Wednesday, 060822. Dan Watson/The Signal

Before making their arguments known during the public comment section of the governing board meeting, CSEA members began congregating outside the district office in order to hold a rally in support of the arguments they would later make.

While waving signs and posters at cars driving by on Center Pointe Parkway, the CSEA members chanted “Equal Pay, Equal Benefits.” During the meeting, CSEA Chapter 349 President Janice Dennington spoke on behalf of the roughly 850 other classified staff union members – a group that includes everyone from the custodians to office administrators to instructional assistants – when she said they would like to see a cost-of -living, or COLA, adjustment to offset the rising cost of consumer goods and inflation.

Jessica Morrow, a CSEA labor relations representative, who attended both the meeting and the rally, said that the district had received from the state for special categories and COVID-19 a 5.33% cost-of-living adjustment.

Jim Aguirre, Castaic High School Plant Manager and16 year district employee holds a sign as cars pass by during a protest in front of the William S. Hart Union School District offices in Santa Clarita on Wednesday, 060822. Dan Watson/The Signal

“To retain and continue to hire the best quality candidates for classified positions, there must be an increase to wages and benefits,” said Morrow. “I respectfully encourage you to direct the district administration to provide a wage increase commensurate with the COLA increase they have received from the state.”

“Dig deep and compensate our classified employees for a job well done,” Dennington said.

Thus far, the district and CSEA representatives have met five times over the course of five months regarding the latest labor negotiation, Dennington said. Their next meeting is scheduled for June 14.

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