In Washington State, the Last Few Teacher Strikes Charge Ahead
Teachers in about a dozen districts in Washington state have returned to the classroom after going on strike for higher pay. But in three districts, teachers are still out on the picket lines—and their battles with their school districts are escalating.
Teachers are still on strike in Tacoma, Tumwater, and Battle Ground. They're seeking pay raises after a 2012 state supreme court ruling forced the state to give districts an additional $2 billion to go toward teacher salaries.
But last week, school district leaders in Tumwater filed for a court injuction to get the teachers back in the classroom. The county judge sided with the district, saying that teacher strikes are illegal in Washington state—but did not impose any penalties against the teachers. Local teachers' union leaders criticized the district for its "bully" tactics.
And now, district leaders in Tacoma and Battle Ground are asking for a state arbitrator to intervene in the contract negotiations, according to the Associated Press. The recommendations from the state's Public Employment Relations Commission, which helps resolve labor disputes, would be nonbinding.
In Tacoma, the state's fourth-largest district, teachers have been on strike for four school days. The district asked for state arbitration so it would have the "same set of facts" as the teachers' union, district spokesman Dan Voelpel told the Seattle Times. The Tacoma district has said it was treated unfairly in the state's new funding formula, because the state restricted how much money the district could get from local taxes without providing substantial new dollars, the News Tribune reported.
The union "is still demanding high-double-digit pay increases, but we are hoping to bring an end to this as soon as possible," Voelpel said. "We think we need to clearly demonstrate it's not a lack of willingness to pay, but a lack of ability, as we did not receive the windfall of cash that other districts had."
Meanwhile, Angel Morton, the local teachers' union president, retorted that teachers will not return to school "if they don't have a competitive wage because they are holding out for the money."
"We are not being greedy; we are just asking for what's ours," Morton told the Seattle Times.
In Battle Ground, the district has said that it has already designated all of the money it received from the state to go toward teachers' salaries, and there's nothing more to give. The teachers' union has said it believes the district has more to offer. The two sides will meet with state mediators in the capital today, according to the Katu2 news station.
See also: Teacher Strikes: 4 Common Questions
This fall, at least 14 school districts in Washington have gone on strike, and teachers in almost 20 districts have voted to authorize strikes. In Seattle, educators voted to go on strike, but the teachers' union and district managed to come to an agreement and avert a work stoppage. A Washington Education Association spokesman said teachers in many districts, including Seattle, have negotiated double-digit salary increases.
The wave of strikes in Washington state is the first major labor unrest in the 2018-19 school year—following widescale teacher strikes, walkouts, and protests in six states last spring. Teachers in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school district, have voted to authorize a strike, which could happen next month. Researchers and onlookers predict continued teacher activism and labor unrest this school year.
Image: Striking teachers carry picket signs as they march around the Tacoma school district's central administration building on Sept. 10 in Washington. Teachers in the district have been on strike since last week. —Ted S. Warren/AP