Empower & Payroll Issues Update

Posted on July 15, 2022

Greetings UESF educators,

Congratulations to all those who finished their summer school work sessions this week. Hopefully, everyone is getting a chance for some rest and rejuvenation this summer.

There has been a recent rise in issues with Empower. This has largely affected those working this summer, but we also know there are still many unresolved issues from the school year. This system has failed educators and district workers for the past 7 months, and we are rightfully angry with how the District launched and managed this new payroll system. 

Issues with pay and benefits, unfortunately, are not new at SFUSD. Back in September, UESF was in regular contact with the Superintendent around issues of leaves which stemmed from the understaffing of key departments dealing with employee services. In October we raised the possibility of a lawsuit and were told that the new Empower system being implemented in January would fix the problem. At that time, consultation hours were offered to members and there was a commitment to solve all leaves and benefits issues within 72 hours. In January, the new system was implemented and by the end of that month, we had already begun to see major problems in pay to our members. 

In February, UESF began gathering all the information necessary to file a class action lawsuit for violation of basic CA labor law. The goal of the lawsuit was to get the District to finally make it a practice of issuing “off cycle” checks and being responsible for penalty fees if they didn’t do so. When the District responded in a dismissive manner, we threatened with taking over the payroll offices. Once again, the District reacted to our pressure and offered the first “pay clinic,” which serviced a couple hundred members. Many received an “off-cycle” check for the first time. However, when one of those checks “bounced,” we knew the crisis of Empower and District mismanagement was beyond ridiculous. The week after, UESF took over the 3rd floor of 555 Franklin which made national news. After 4 days of our occupation, UESF members won an MOU that met the lawsuit demands and more. 

Since then, the Assistant Superintendent that mismanaged the implementation of Empower left the District. A new director was assigned to lead Empower. UESF then worked with SFUSD to develop an internal priority list to keep track of the most urgent payroll tickets. While there were still issues with member’s pay, there had been improvement in the response time for the most egregious cases. UESF then turned our focus on making sure members facing a small paycheck in July would receive their full pay. We ran a “make it right” campaign that won an additional stipend and moved the November stipend to July so that members could get as close to their full amount as possible. We also forced the District to host 2 more “intake clinics,” where members continued to raise ongoing issues with Empower.

Unfortunately, new issues emerged with summer work. For example, they canceled health care benefits for members whose work status changed for their summer position. We hear the justified anger of educators. We CANNOT start a new year facing these basic violations to our labor rights. We have been working with our state affiliates, CFT and CTA, to build up a legal case that can be submitted to the California Labor Commissioner’s Office and exploring all options possible to us.  

We also met with the new Superintendent, Dr. Wayne this past Monday, July 11th. We made it clear we have had enough with Empower and educators are fed up with being accountants, we want to solely focus on doing what we do best: work with our students. We want him to know that his leadership will be tested in how well and how quickly he resolves the many problems with Empower.

Dr. Wayne presented to us a draft plan for staffing up and investing in operations, making people whole and keeping them whole and making the system work better for us. Concretely, it means that by the end of August, SFUSD will have staff to deal with tickets, solve all pay issues on the docket and end the requirement to do timesheets for certificated members and the need to request approval for sick and personal time off. These are important steps in the right direction.

UESF restated our commitment to fighting for the schools our students deserve. We want this to be a successful year, and we will not stand idly by as educators continue to suffer these indignities. Our union is here, working hard every day to ensure that your rights are protected. We have exciting new ways we are fighting for funds for our schools and will be beginning our contract campaign gathering educator input starting in August. We look forward to building with each and every educator as we fight for the schools we deserve. Happy Friday and enjoy the rest of your summer.