Emotional protest over Sweetwater Union teachers' contract - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Emotional protest over Sweetwater Union teachers' contract

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CHULA VISTA (CBS 8) - Emotions ran high at Monday night's Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting, where hundreds of teachers protested a contract proposal which the district has called it "best, last and final offer."

The main point of contention: higher health insurance rates for many employees, which they say district officials slipped in to the proposed contract at the eleventh hour.

"They've broken their word," said Alta Vista Academy teacher Katina Rondeau. "They've broken or contract: we're in a labor dispute."

This dispute centers around how much school district employees would have to pay for their health insurance coverage. In many cases, for teachers with two or more dependents, it would increase to double what they're paying now out-of-pocket.

This means many teachers now have to make the gut-wrenching choice of choosing which of their children to take off their plan.

"It came down to a choice between providing health care and providing a home for my family," said teacher Sweetwater High teacher Meg Garcia, who said she was forced to take her son off her plan.

Suriya Stewart, a single mom of two who teaches at Chula Vista middle school, had to drop her two-year-old daughter from her insurance.

"It's too expensive to keep both of my children on my insurance plan. I can pay for two, but not for the three of us," Stewart told CBS News 8. "it breaks my heart that this is happening, and having to accept it as reality is very difficult."

The Sweetwater Union teachers' contract expired last summer. While they are working under the previous contract, there is no indication when -- or if -- a new contract will be signed.

In a statement, Sweetwater Union superintendent Edward Brand said, "While we are working hard to try and make progress, I am very disappointed that we have not been able to reach an agreement up to this point."

"We have reached tentative agreements with the three CSEA (California State Employees Association), Management employees and Confidential unit employees with very similar offers," Brand added. "We are hoping to have something worked out with the remaining groups as soon as possible."

Under the terms of the currently proposed contract, Sweetwater Union teachers would receive a five percent raise over the next three years.

Also, single employees and those with only one dependent would pay a lower rate for their health insurance, according to district officials.

If impasse is officially reached in contract negotiations, an outside mediator would then be brought in to try to facilitate an agreement.

Teachers on Monday night said while they are anxious to get back to the bargaining table, they are prepared to stage a strike if it is necessary.

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