Behind the scenes: Sequoia District Teachers Association
January 23, 2023
Frustration with employers who do not always have workers’ best interests in mind is at the heart of the labor movement.
“The only reason you wouldn’t need a union is when you trust that your boss or your organization is never going to change how they treat you,” Edith Salvatore said. Salvatore is a single mother of triplets, a Spanish teacher at Sequoia High School, and the president of the Sequoia District Teachers’ Association (SDTA), a teachers’ union with members from Carlmont High School that negotiates teachers’ contracts with the district.
The SDTA is affiliated with the National Education Association, a union with over 3 million members representing educators nationwide, and their first collectively bargained contract with the Sequoia Union High School District began in 1978, according to Salvatore.
They are the exclusive bargaining representative for all certificated non-management staff in the district—teachers, librarians, counselors, psychologists, speech pathologists, and others with specific certificates for their position that are not management.
According to Salvatore, the SDTA has just under 630 members and 25 non-members that they currently represent.
Salvatore has been president for 12 years, was vice president for three years prior to that, and secretary even before that. She has been on the bargaining team for close to 20 years.
“One of the things we’re really proud of is that through our contract, the district offers full health benefits to our members. Whether they’re single, two-party, married or full family, there’s no out-of-pocket cost for the benefits in our district. We worked with the district for three years to find alternatives to the way that we were getting benefits so that we can lower the cost, and so the district wouldn’t keep bargaining every year to cap that benefit and get folks to pay out of pocket,” Salvatore said.
The SDTA’s success stems from the desire to provide the best conditions for its members, and they have achieved much more than extended benefits.
However, despite SDTA being a well-established union, there are still recurrent efforts from outside education to break them because teachers’ unions are seen as an obstacle to the privatization of education, according to Salvatore.
“If you have protections for teachers, then teachers can stand up for what students need in the classroom. In places where you don’t have teachers’ unions, whoever is in charge has the ability to eliminate the people who are criticizing what’s happening or pushing back against things like vouchers and charter schools that don’t follow the real goals of charter schools, which is to innovate,” Salvatore said.
But for Salvatore, SDTA’s motivation to continue their work comes from the help their policies provide to teachers.
Sometimes, a lot of what gets done is behind the scenes. We want teachers to know the work we do, but we also understand that teaching is a consuming job. What feels the best is knowing that something we put into play is helping a teacher in their work.
— Edith Salvatore
“Sometimes, a lot of what gets done is behind the scenes. We want teachers to know the work we do, but we also understand that teaching is a consuming job. What feels the best is knowing that something we put into play is helping a teacher in their work. Whether that’s knowing that their kid has health coverage or whether it’s knowing that they have access to a peer coach,” Salvatore said.
Matthew Miskelly, math department chair at Carlmont, has been a part of the SDTA for seven years.
Miskelly’s main role is to make sure that teacher and administrator concerns are being addressed properly. He originally joined the SDTA to learn more about the relationship between teachers and administrators.
“As a member of SDTA, I have been able to form relationships with teachers and administrators from both Carlmont and other schools that I would not have had otherwise. I have also made sure that the voices and opinions of more teachers are heard by our administration group,” Miskelly said.
According to Miskelly, SDTA’s union representatives have put in a lot of unpaid hours to ensure fair treatment for teachers.
“The union is important because it gives our teachers a unified voice. We work together to make better working conditions for teachers and a better learning environment for students,” Miskelly said.