Labor negotiations moved one step further last week after the Cabrillo Unified Teachers Association called for a hearing to uncover the facts of the Cabrillo Unified School District’s financial situation.

This next stage in negotiations is called “fact-finding,” in which a neutral arbiter from the California Public Employee Relations Board will hear arguments from a representative from both the school district and the bargaining unit and come to a non-binding recommendation. District and union leaders said that, while this process is becoming more common in California, it is a first for Cabrillo in recent history.

The fact-finding phase comes after an unsuccessful attempt at mediation between the district and CUTA this fall following nearly two years of negotiations. The teachers’ union is asking for a 3 percent raise in back pay on their 2019-20 salaries from the district. District officials argue the school system doesn’t have the money, given its current financial climate.

CUTA Bargaining Chair Kathleen Wall said the union called for fact-finding because it is confident the process will uncover information favorable to the union’s goals.

“We would not take it this far if we did not feel like we would prevail in fact-finding,” Wall said. “We definitely believe … that the district can afford to give us a raise and they just need to see it. I think that the money is there.”

CUSD Superintendent Sean McPhetridge said he will come to the hearing looking for common ground.

“At the end of the day, we believe this is a process and we will bargain in good faith,” McPhetridge said. “I think we made the case that in the past we didn't think we could afford what they are requesting and looking forward, it will be interesting to see if we can make an agreement.”

If the hearing process does not produce an agreement, the employee relations board will compile results of fact-finding mission and issue a recommendation. If that document doesn’t inspire an agreement or further mediation, the district can offer its “last, best and final” contract offer and CUTA can legally take a vote to go on strike.

Wall said CUTA plans to see the process out.

“It’s really unfortunate and exhausting,” Wall said. “To me, it's shocking that we’ve gotten to this point.”

McPhetridge said his decision-making has been based on recent financial reports and a review from the California Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, which he says have shown unstable budget outlooks for the coming years.

“Nobody wants a strike, but ultimately, we don't control that,” McPhetridge said. “But we couldn't afford what (CUTA) asked for previously and that may change, but the budget is the budget.”

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