Saturday, August 25, 2018

Tumwater Educator Union Members Rally

Above: Jillian Emerson, 17, and Jessica Bowerman, 17, will be seniors at Black Hills High School in September. They rallied in support of their teachers and others represented by the Tumwater Education Association outside Tumwater School District offices on Saturday afternoon.

“I really believe that with the numbers we have right now, over 90 percent of our members will vote to strike,” says Tim Voie, Tumwater Education Association union president.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“The last thing we want to do is strike,” said Tim Voie, Tumwater Education Association president at a rally held outside Tumwater School District offices on Saturday afternoon.

Inside, union representatives were working on a contract while Voie and union members were outside calling for lower class sizes and professional pay and respect.

Many families are on vacation squeezing out the last bits out of summer or shopping for back-to-school clothes and supplies while educator union members around the state are bargaining for fair wages.

In its January, 2012 McCleary decision, the Washington State Supreme Court ordered the state to fully fund K-12 public schools as required by Article IX of the Washington Constitution.

This past June, the court ruled that the state is in compliance with the McCleary decision. The Legislature increased state funding for public schools by billions, including $2 billion to increase educator salaries in the 2018-19 school year.

Although the money is there, pay raises at the local level in each school district need to be negotiated.

An educator for 26 years, Voie is a teacher at Secondary Options, Tumwater’s alternative high school. This is his fifth year as president of the Tumwater Education Association.

The Association has been in negotiations with the Tumwater School District since May. 

“At that time, they offered us a 3.1 percent pay raise. Then we spent the summer watching districts around the state get significant pay increases. We believe that the teachers of Tumwater should get a fair portion that the state allotted in the McCleary decision for teacher’s salaries.”

The 3.1 percent figure, Voie says, is an imaginary number.

“So many districts have flown past that percentage that the district finally agreed yesterday that the 3.1 percent number is a non-factor. Now we’re trying to bargain a contract to get us to an equal footing similar to our like-sized districts from around the state. What we’re finding is that in order to attract and retain great teachers, we’re going to have to offer a salary that’s going to do so,” said Voie.

“Right now, the offer the district has put on the table will not be ratified by our membership when we present the numbers to them. We’ve got a strike authorization vote for Monday. I really believe that with the numbers we have right now, over 90 percent of our members will vote to strike. That doesn’t mean we’re on strike then. We’ve still got until August 31 to work on it. That’s when our current contract expires, so we so could vote to authorize a strike and we could keep working on negotiations.

There are about 6,000 students in Tumwater and about 400 certificated staff. Members of the union include not just teachers, but psychologists, counselors, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and nurses.

Tumwater Education Association negotiators include five certificated members and one representative of the Washington Education Association.

Voie was asked if Tumwater union members have ever before reached this point of contention.

“Not to this point. We went to mediation a couple of years ago and had to use a mediator to settle but we’ve never reached a point where a strike was imminent. We’re there now. Again, that’s the last thing we want to do. That’s not good for anybody, but neither does settling for a salary that we think doesn’t value and honor the teachers. 

Above: Tumwater Education Association members rally on Saturday.

Jillian Emerson, 17, and Jessica Bowerman, 17, both students at Black Hills High School, spent their Saturday supporting their teachers and Tumwater school district staff.

Amid noisy, supportive horn honking by cars driving past the rally, Bowerman said she moved to Tumwater from Minneapolis when she was in the eighth grade. She says she wants to be an engineer.

“I really like math and took calculus last year,” she said.

Emerson, who has attended Tumwater schools since kindergarten, says she wants to go into the medical field, perhaps as a physical therapist.

“I love all my teachers. They deserve fair pay. We’ve lost some good teachers to other districts because of the pay. I dont want them to go on strike. My dad is a bus driver and I want my dad to work. I definitely support what the teachers are asking for,” said Emerson.

Olympia Education Association Bargaining Session on Monday

Adam Brickell, president of the Olympia Education Association, was at the rally in support of the demonstration. Brickell represents about 700 union members.

Brickell, a speech and language pathologist, works with special education students with speech delays. He’s been an educator for 22 years and has held his position as union president for almost six years.

Brickell says Olympia is still having good, constructive talks at the bargaining table. His union is not considering a strike and his members are out supporting others. 

The Olympia Education Association has an all-day bargaining session scheduled for Monday. He hopes they can get a temporary agreement so they can ratify it at their general membership meeting on August 29.

“Everyone is bargaining right now and trying to wrap things up before school starts, so you’re going to see a lot happening in this next week,” said Bricklin.

Above: Jennifer Hyer-Long, a physical education teacher at Tumwater Middle School, with her son, Chase, who is almost 13 years old, on Saturday afternoon. Holding her homemade sign, Hyer-Long said she has lived in Tumwater since the fourth grade.