Tag Archives: Tacoma Teacher’s Strike

Tacoma Teachers’ Strike Ends and Students Head Back to School

From left, Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Art Jarvis, left, Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Tacoma School Board President Kurt Miller, and Andy Coons, president of the Tacoma Education Association, announce Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, that a tentative agreement has been reached in the Tacoma teachers strike, following a negotiating session in Gregoire's office at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Parties from both sides of a Tacoma teachers' strike were summoned to the Governor's office Wednesday after failing so far to reach an agreement.

     Art Jarvis, Gov. Gregoire, Kurt Miller, and Andy Coons

What welcome news! The Tacoma teachers’ strike is over, and its teachers and students returned to school today as everyone let out a sigh of relief.

On Wednesday night, after Governor Christine Gregoire had summoned both sides to her office in Olympia for a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement, and after seven hours of intense negotiations which were mediated by Gregoire herself, both sides made the necessary concessions to end this week-long strike.

The new three-year labor deal keeps the previous class-size limits in place as the teachers agreed to drop their demands for lower overall ratios of students to teachers. The district agreed to abandon their proposal to cut salaries, although teachers lost one paid training day.

The biggest arguments occurred over the district’s demands to revise staffing policies allowing them to reassign teachers between schools based on criteria such as performance evaluations rather than seniority. Ultimately, it was agreed that a joint panel of school officials and teachers would be established to set new teacher evaluation standards to be used along with seniority to determine future staffing reassignments.

The settlement includes an amnesty clause which guarantees that union members who participated in the strike would not be adversely affected by that participation in their performance appraisals.

On Thursday, Tacoma’s teachers showed up at Mount Tahoma High School to vote on the new three-year contract. Of the 1,701 who voted, only 15 teachers voted against the contract. The atmosphere was a celebratory one mixed with chants, standing ovations, and teachers dancing in the bleachers.

Tacoma Education Association president Andy Coons told the crowd, “We need to start healing. We need to get back to our classrooms. We need to focus on why we did this … we need to get back to that work tomorrow.” And of the teachers, Coons said, “I have never been more proud to be a teacher. This was not an easy process, but … we did what had to be done and we did it together.”

Dan Voelpel, the district spokesman said, “I think there’s a sense of elation not only at getting students and teachers back in the class but that we came up with an agreement that sets the stage for innovation in how we match up teachers with the needs of schools.”

Teacher Steve Jacobson holds his four-year-old daughter Bianca as he celebrates the end of the Tacoma Education Association strike in Tacoma, Washington September 22, 2011. EUTERS-Nicole Neroulias

Steve Jacobson, a 35-year old high school health and physical education teacher, who had his daughter, Bianca, perched on his shoulders during the celebration, said, “I’m excited to get back to work, and I’m excited for my daughter because she gets to go back to school.”

Tacoma schools superintendent Art Jarvis (L) and School Board President Kurt Miller ring the ceremonial bell, signifying school is in session and the end to the teachers strike, on top of the Tacoma Central School District's Administration Building September 22, 2011. REUTERS-Nicole Neroulias

District officials celebrated as well. Tacoma Superintendent Art Jarvis and school board president Kurt Miller rang the ceremonial bell which stands above the district’s central office, something that hasn’t been done in almost 10 years.

As he rang the bell which echoed throughout downtown Tacoma, Jarvis declared, “We call all the children back to school.”

And to parents who have had to search for and pay for day care and for many students, the news has been a welcome relief.

“We were thrilled,” said Jill Furman after the strike ended. She was preparing to go grocery shopping with her ninth-grade daughter Rebecca, who said she was running out of things to do in the days off. “It just got boring after a while,” she said.

Some loose ends will still need to be tied up. For instance, the judge must still decide whether he will drop the contempt-of-court citations, although district officials said that they consider the issue closed. And the district will still need to determine how they will spend down its reserve funds by $15.4 million this year in order to avoid deeper cuts in student programs and staffing.

On Thursday, the district’s website announced that school would reopen Friday, and today, teachers and students returned to their classrooms.

What a relief for this district who reached a fair compromise and can now get back to doing what it does best; educating and guiding its students!

Governor Mediating in Tacoma Teachers’ Strike

Is this a first? Has a governor ever gotten involved in a teachers’ strike to the degree that Washington’s governor has?

Motivated by frustration over the cancellation of school for seven days in Tacoma, Governor Chris Gregoire called both sides involved in Tacoma’s teachers strike into her office today in hopes of reaching a resolution to the district’s stalemate.

Negotiators traveled to Olympia to continue their discussions under Gregoire’s watchful eye when talks throughout the day today failed to reach an agreement. Representatives from both sides arrived before 3 p.m. to begin closed-door talks.

In spite of the fact that the governor has no direct control of the schools in her state, she has been putting pressure on both sides to reach an agreement.

Karina Shagren, a spokeswoman for the governor, said, “She is incredibly anxious. She wants to get those kids back in school.”

Wednesday marked the seventh day of Tacoma’s teacher strike and the seventh day that the students in the state’s third-largest school district have not been able to attend school. The two sides continue to battle over issues involving pay, class size, and, most importantly, how the district handles teacher transfers.

Gregoire stated that she wants negotiators from the district and the union to remain in her office “until their differences are reconciled and the school doors reopen.”

The governor is right to be concerned, as a strike that lasts a long time hugely impacts the students and the parents of the community which can erode needed cooperation between the community and the schools.

Jennifer Boutell, a mother of two girls who attend the Tacoma school district, said that she is very lucky that she can stay home and watch her young daughters while this strike continues, but she points out that many cannot, and parents’ patience is running out.

Boutell told a reporter that the strike has forced her to delay freelance web development projects, and she said she knows of parents from her daughter’s school who have had to skip work in order to take care of their children. With the cost of day care escalating to $35 per day per child during the strike (apparently day care centers are reaping the benefits of the strike-gouging at its finest) some parents simply can’t afford not to stay home with their children.

Those who have been involved in any way in a teachers’ strike know the emotional toll it takes on all those involved. It will take years for this district, once it finally reaches a resolution, to get back to normal.

Having been through a strike at one time in my teaching career, I can honestly say that it was the most difficult point in all my years of teaching, as it did tremendous damage to relationships in the school and in our community. Healing that damage took several years.

I earnestly hope that issues can be resolved soon in this Tacoma strike. Cooler heads need to win out here and concessions need to be made on both sides of the table to end this for the sake of Tacoma’s children who need to be in school and for the parents who need to go to work.

I applaud Governor Gregoire for showing the leadership that these negotiators need to get this resolved. I hope she stands firm and keeps those doors closed until reason is restored and true negotiation leads to the reopening of Tacoma’s schools.

Tacoma Teachers’ Strike: Day Six

The most recent news out of Tacoma, where the teachers of Washington’s third-largest school district have been on strike since September 12, doesn’t look promising for those who are on the picket lines.

According to Associated Press, on Monday, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff said that he is considering giving the school district the option of replacing those teachers who are on the picket line. On September 14, the judge issued a restraining order and demanded that Tacoma teachers return to work, an order which the district’s teachers refused to obey.

This latest and unexpected comment from the judge came after classes were canceled Monday and today.

District spokesman Dan Voelpel had this to say about the judge’s comment, “That came as quite a surprise. We didn’t ask about that in court. He began speaking out loud about actions to impose next week.”

Chushcoff further explained at Monday’s hearing that it would be up to the district to decide if they wanted to hire temporary or permanent replacements for their striking teachers, or if they would rather develop a totally different plan.

“I’m seriously considering doing that,” the judge said. “Those are all possibilities.”

The hearing held on Monday was to determine how to notify teachers that they are violating Chushcoff’s order. Voelpel said that the district decided to notify its teachers by U.S. mail.

State and local public employees have no legally protected right to strike, and the district has argued in court that teacher strikes have been ruled illegal since 1976 by 19 different judges. On the other hand, the union has argued that the court should not insert itself into the bargaining process, and they have also put forward the notion that an injunction only applies to its leaders.

More talks took place on Monday afternoon between the district, the union, and a state mediator which went to 2:15 in the morning. Talks resumed this afternoon, again, with a state mediator present.

According to Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood, the biggest issue to be resolved is that the district seeks to consider other factors in transferring teachers in addition to seniority.

Voelpel explained that the district decides each afternoon whether it will have to cancel classes for the next day, and Wood said teachers won’t be going back to their classrooms until they vote on a tentative agreement.

Wednesday would mark the seventh day school has been canceled in Tacoma, unless a tentative agreement can be reached.

Judge Gives Tacoma Teachers More Time to Negotiate

As of now, teachers of the Tacoma School District are still on strike, in spite of a judge’s order for them to end the strike and return to their classrooms.

On Thursday and Friday, the majority of the district’s 1,900 teachers reported to their picket lines in direct defiance of Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff’s decision on Wednesday, which ordered the teachers back to work and both parties to return to the negotiating table.

Interestingly, some of the district’s 28,000 students joined their teachers on the lines, and hundreds more rallied in front of the Tacoma Dome before and during the teacher’s vote on Thursday.

One student, Rebecca Jimenez who is a senior at Foss High School said, “I think it’s a good example to show. If you’re going to do something, stick with it. Don’t give up.”

During a hearing on Friday, Chushcoff said that all parties involved in the Tacoma teachers’ strike have until September 27 to reach a deal. He expressed his reluctance to the News Tribune to go any further at this time, in spite of his earlier temporary restraining order.

Chushcoff also made it clear to the teachers that they could be fined for violating his restraining order and that sanctions could be retroactive. However, he also said that he was hoping that this wouldn’t be necessary. (In other words, resolve this or else.)

He also instructed the teachers union and the school district to turn over their contract proposals to the news media and to him, and he asked to see the Tacoma Education Association’s financial statements and bank records, according to the Tacoma News Tribune. While he wouldn’t explain why he wanted these, he promised not to release them to the public.

Meanwhile, Shannon McMinimee, the school district’s attorney, told the judge that the teachers were openly defying his order and should be sanctioned. “They are out of compliance with this court’s order. The teachers are striking. That’s a fact,” McMinimee said.

She further recommended fining the Tacoma Education Association as a group, as well as its individual members, in order to force them to comply with the restraining order.

Tyler Firkins, the union’s attorney argued that such an action would be unfair and that sanctions against union members with no opportunity to defend themselves in court was a violation of their rights to due process. Firkins stated, “We simply ask for a fair opportunity.”

McMinimee accused the union of stalling and said that giving them more time was similar to letting them “hold a gun to the district’s head” during contract negotiations.

I love the judge’s response! He said he would release documents itemizing contract proposals to the public in order to dismiss any rhetoric about which side is inflexible during the bargaining. Chushcoff said, “We’ll let the light of day disinfect all that.”

Meanwhile, the district’s superintendent announced that there would be no school again today.