Skip to main content

SF teachers take payroll battle to state as district announces ‘emergency’ plan

Former Lincoln High School Spanish teacher Mary Cerasoli holds a sign before attending a SFUSD Board of Education meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, in San Francisco. At right is Felix Lang, 3, whose mom is a teacher. | Noah Berger for The Standard

San Francisco’s teachers’ union is filing an unfair labor practice complaint with state officials over long-running payroll problems that span over 10 months, The Standard has learned. 

The United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) are expected to file the charge Monday morning as San Francisco Unified School District announced a corrective action plan. The filing could see the state step in to enforce the union’s contract. 

Since the district switched to payroll system EMPower in January, school staff have contended with missing pay, benefits, retirement errors and other glitches that have loomed over their livelihoods. As of Oct. 21, SFUSD has over 9,200 outstanding payroll help tickets affecting about 3,500 workers, according to an outside consultant hired to fix the issues. 

Since September, the union has collected more than 250 formal grievances to build up a case. 

While union Vice President Frank Lara said the district has picked up the pace of making corrective checks, many issues remain around missing sick days, delayed retirement contributions, canceled benefits and tax errors. 

“The union can’t rely on hope,” Lara said. “That’s where it comes with the state to intervene to make sure the contract is respected. We tried to raise the alarm.”

If California’s Public Employment Relations Board deems it credible, a formal complaint ensues and triggers a formal hearing if no settlement is reached. The school district has typically agreed with the grievances filed in the payroll fiasco but has not remedied them, Lara said. 

The district has maintained that everyone will be paid what they’re owed. District officials also hired a consultant for $2.8 million to assess the situation and recommend a corrective action plan that Superintendent Matt Wayne said would be put into place.

That plan entails a command center with 60 staffers, a mix of reassigned SFUSD staff and contractors, led by a new Head of Staff Marin Trujillo to act on Wayne’s behalf and clear the backlog. SFUSD will provide regular updates to the public, including a dashboard tracking the number of tickets and progress made.  

“It is long overdue for us to escalate this issue and take aggressive action,” Superintendent Wayne said in a statement. “Declaring a state of payroll emergency means we will be doing things differently so that we can do right by our educators and staff. You have my assurance, and the assurance of SFUSD, that these problems will be rectified.”

UESF netted a repayment agreement with SFUSD after it took over district headquarters in March and protests have continued into the new school year under a new superintendent. On Thursday, hundreds of staff blocked traffic outside the same building after several call out sick and staged protests across several campuses.

Board of Education President Jenny Lam warned of "tough decisions" needed in the days ahead. The board will have weekly updates on progress and setbacks.

"The problems with the district's payroll system are bigger and more complex than was previously known," Lam said.  "It will take time to fix EMPower and even more time to fix the underlying systems. It pains me to say that."

This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.