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Teachers' Strike Narrowly Avoided in Seattle, But Los Angeles Might Be Next


Teachers in Seattle will be in the classroom tomorrow, signaling an end to a contract dispute. But over 1,000 miles away, teachers in Los Angeles are still heading toward a strike.

On Friday, the Seattle teachers' union and the city school district reached a tentative contract agreement to avoid a strike, which educators had voted to authorize earlier in the week. Teachers will see their salaries increase by 10.5 percent, according to the Seattle Times. Teachers in more than a dozen other districts in Washington state have either authorized strikes or started them in a wave of contract disputes. 

There's an additional $2 billion in the state budget for teacher salaries, which has created a "once in a lifetime" opportunity for teachers' unions to negotiate for higher compensation, the Washington Education Association has said. The money was allocated after a 2012 state supreme court case, which found that Washington was not adequately funding public education. The court has ordered the state to give districts money so they can increase teachers' base salaries this fall. 

Currently, teachers in at least six school districts in Washington are on strike, according to the WEA. Several others are in negotiations. The Seattle Times reported that in the districts that have settled contract agreements, teachers have seen sizeable salary bumps—as much as 25 percent. 

See also: Teacher Strikes: 4 Common Questions

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, 98 percent of teachers' union members voted on Friday to authorize a strike if the union and the school district can't come to an agreement. The two sides must still meet with a state mediator, and then take several other steps before union members are legally allowed to strike. Some watchers, including a union member writing in the Los Angeles Times, have predicted the union will go on strike in October. 

Los Angeles teachers have been without a contract for a year. The union is asking for a teacher pay raise, class-size reductions, and more school nurses, librarians, and restorative-justice advisors. School district officials have said they agree with the union's demands on principle, but there isn't enough money in the budget to pay for these changes. 

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, a Washington-based think tank, the Los Angles district has lower teacher salaries than most surrounding districts. NCTQ also compared Los Angeles, which is the second-largest school district in the country, to the nine other largest districts—L.A. has relatively competitive starting salaries, but the pay becomes less competitive as teachers gain seniority.

The last teacher strike in Los Angeles was in 1989. The teachers' union president has said he is inspired by the wave of recent widescale teacher protests, walkouts, and strikes. This spring, teachers in Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia all walked out of their classrooms, causing schools to shut down. 

Image: Hudson's Bay High School American sign language teacher Danna Claborn responds to support from drivers while joining fellow striking teachers in Vancouver, Wash., on Aug. 29. —Amanda Cowan/The Columbian via AP

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