Sweetwater union teachers protest, ready to strike - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Sweetwater union teachers protest, ready to strike

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CHULA VISTA (CNS/CBS 8) - Teachers in the South Bay are threatening to strike if a deal isn't reached with the Sweetwater Union High School District.

A board meeting to discuss the labor dispute was postponed -- but that didn't keep protestors from making their voices heard.

"What do we want? A contract! When do we want it? Now."

A Sweetwater Union High School District board meeting was postponed to March 25 due to what the district called the "ongoing labor situation" and a surgical procedure scheduled for Wednesday for board President Jim Cartmill, who has an unspecified medical problem.

However, the district's two-week spring break starts next week.

About 92 percent of the more than 1,400 teachers -- who instruct middle and high school students in Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, National City and San Diego South Bay neighborhoods -- authorized a strike, though such action has not been taken.

"It's important, it's our job, it's what we do, we love to help our community," said National City Middle School teacher, Maribel Hernandez.

According to a statement from the Sweetwater Education Association, the district imposed a doubling of health care payments on teachers and has not negotiated in good faith.

"I had to move one of my children off my policy and put it on my wife's insurance who teaches at a private school," said Mar Vista High School teacher Michael Crawford.

The president of SEA says the district needs to negotiate fair wages. Roberto Rodriguez says they haven't had a raise in six years and to help with the fiscal burden during a tough economy they temporarily increased classroom sizes but now they want to decrease classes by 10 students.

"All we want is a settlement and we want a fair settlement and we want a settlement that we deserve, that students deserve and that the community deserves," said SEA President Roberto Rodriguez.

The district said it informed the SEA about the postponement and "will continue to make efforts to find an immediate resolution that is beneficial to all and ensures continued student achievement and success."

CBS News 8 spoke to SUHSD spokesperson Manuel Rubio who says, "There is back and forth and we are interested in working with them on what the common ground is."

Last week, district officials said they believe any strike while negotiations are underway would be illegal.

Teachers also questioned the legality of canceling the meeting at the last minute. Board member Bertha Lopez showed up in hopes of having three present for a quorum but no one came inside, "These are your children, this is your community."

Board Member John McCann says attorneys for the district recommended he stay out of the room to avoid breaking any open meetings law but he was outside available for reporter questions.

"I 100 percent disagree that the meeting be canceled," said SUHSD Board Member John McCann.

Parents are concerned about the strike and some plan to stand by their children's teachers.

"If the teachers do go on strike we will be keeping our children home to support our teachers," said Billi.

She and her daughter did not want to release their full names but say students are paying attention to the possible strike and how it could impact their education.

"It really does effect us because it started with teachers who stopped tutoring us," said Haili.

Rubio says if teachers strike they have a plan to bring in substitutes and district staff.

The California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) is scheduled for this week. The exam is required for all high school students to receive their diploma.

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