Shoreline staff strike, stranding some students

11/02/2017

Twenty of Shoreline Unified School District’s 50 classified employees conducted a wildcat strike—without union authorization—on Monday, leaving some students unable to get to school. 

Six of seven bus drivers called in sick, and the district scrambled to cover duties left unattended by kitchen staff, class aides, maintenance workers and others.

The union representative for the district’s classified employees, Markey Lees, said it was not an organized action. “But I can tell you, there is definitely a palpable unhappiness from the employees in the district who don’t feel they’re being treated fairly,” Ms. Lees said. “And I think that it’s natural for [the district] to assume the worst.”

The district and the union have been at loggerheads since the spring over negotiations related to health care benefits. The district is proposing to swap out current health insurance plans for health savings accounts and stipends for premiums, along with an incremental pay raise. 

Shoreline Superintendent Bob Raines appeared stumped this week. 

“If this was in response to their perception of where negotiations are, then that is putting the cart in front of the horse. There are a number of steps either side can take before any sort of job action,” he said. “There are ways in education to avoid these things because ultimately, the impact is on students. And nobody wants to do that.”

But there are other woes. Shoreline transportation staff have lodged various complaints to the district regarding antiquated buses without functioning defrosters and heaters, Ms. Lees said. 

In addition, the district’s director of transportation, George Borges, has been working on and off since the beginning of the school year for health reasons, and his absence in leadership has rippled through the staff. 

“We are stranded over there with no help,” Norma Nygard, a bus driver, said during the district’s board meeting last month. “We go to work and have no director of transportation. We have no [one to] phone if there’s an emergency. We need help. We don’t know what to do.”

Mr. Raines offered his cell number to drivers in case there was an emergency. 

Yet Ms. Lees described an incident last weekend in which a bus carrying the Tomales High football team to the South Bay broke down after overheating. She said the driver called the superintendent, who then “deferred” the call to Mr. Borges. Mr. Borges, in turn, “yelled at the driver.” 

The driver eventually contacted a towing company, but Ms. Lees said the episode left the transportation staff feeling desperate. “The driver did all this stuff that is not theirs to do,” she said. “The bus drivers feel very unsupported.”

Mr. Raines said he spoke to Mr. Borges on Monday and that he told him the issue had been resolved.