Schools play dodgeball on sick-leave laws 

While some of The City’s business owners have grumbled about the costs imposed by San Francisco’s two new health care laws, one of The City’s larger employers — the school district — says it’s not obligated to comply due to its status as a state agency.

In February, San Francisco’s paid sick leave ordinance took effect, requiring all employers in The City to offer workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Another law, the Worker Health Care Security Ordinance, is designed to create an affordable "Healthy San Francisco" health care system for The City’s uninsured. Starting in 2008, it will require businesses in San Francisco with more than 20 employees to invest $1.17 to $1.85 for each employee hour worked for health care.

During recent contract negotiations with the San Francisco Unified School District, the teachers union asked the district to comply with the Worker Health Care Security Ordinance and make financial contributions to provide health care for substitute teachers. Approximately 500 substitute teachers are members of the union — the United Educators of San Francisco. Assigned classroom teachers represented by the union are already offered health benefits.

The district consulted with the Office of the City Attorney and confirmed that because it is a separate governmental agency that is part of the state of California, San Francisco does not have authority over the district, said Miguel Marguez, general counsel for the district.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, however, said he’s not so sure he wants to let the district off the financial hook just because the agency is not legally required to make the health care investments for substitute teachers.

"Before they say they can’t do it, we’re going to see how much they can do," Newsom told The Examiner on Tuesday, adding that The City makes millions of dollars in financial contributions to the school district.

"With respect, if you’ve got healthy teachers, you’ve got better teachers, better classroom environment, better for our children. It’s a fundamental priority," Newsom said.

Several hours later, Newsom’s spokesperson, Nathan Ballard, called to backtrack, and said that the mayor did not say that the school district should pay for substitute teacher health care.

"He’s just saying that all San Franciscans are entitled to universal health care, depending on their income level under the Healthy San Francisco plan, period," Ballard said.

District officials say San Francisco’s public school system faces severe financial constraints, in part due to declining enrollment. The district has lost about 800 students annually for the last five years, which has cost the district about $21 million. Although a handful of substitute teachers that work consistently or for a set amount of hours are eligible to receive health benefits, the district can’t afford to offer coverage to all substitutes, district officials say.

Although union representatives decided not to press for the health care for substitutes before tentatively approving an agreement with the district this past weekend, it is considering launching a legal challenge to get the city-mandated benefits for its members, said Dennis Kelly, president of the United Educators of San Francisco.

beslinger@examiner.com

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