Monday, June 14, 2021
June 14, 2021

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Seattle teachers expect divided vote on contract Sunday

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When Seattle teachers-union members voted this month to strike if no contract agreement was reached with the school district, the response was a unanimous “yes,” shouted from more than 2,000 people at Benaroya Hall.

The tentative contract agreement wasn’t reached until nearly two weeks later, after a five-day strike. On Sunday, when the union votes whether to ratify that contract, the reaction likely won’t be one of overwhelming support, members say.

Though the announcement of a tentative agreement between Seattle Public Schools and the union was celebrated earlier this week, some teachers are frustrated with parts of the deal, such as pay and some special education teacher-student ratios.

“I definitely think it’s going to be divided,” Cleveland language-arts and social studies teacher Evin Shinn said. “Is it (the contract) everything we want? Probably not, but nobody is going to get everything they want.”

Seattle teachers and other employees in the 5,000-member union went on strike Sept. 8 after negotiations with the district stalled. The first day of school was delayed until Thursday, eight days later than its originally scheduled date.

The two sides reached a tentative agreement early Tuesday morning. Later that day, the union’s board of directors and representative assembly both voted to recommend the contract, suspending the strike.

But if members reject the deal on Sunday, the strike could resume, Washington Education Association spokesman Rich Wood said.

Teachers and other school employees expressed appreciation for the union’s bargaining team, which worked through the summer and one final, marathon overnight session to hammer out the agreement. They also overwhelmingly support parts of the contract, such as the guaranteed 30 minutes of recess for elementary students and new equity committees launching in 30 schools.

Jeff Treistman, a librarian at Denny International Middle School, said he’s proud of what the bargaining team accomplished, especially for the students.

“We sent a team of people who volunteered their time and came up with a program that is worth tens of thousands of dollars in consulting fees,” Treistman said.

Still, Treistman will be voting no on Sunday. The compensation in the contract – a 9.5 percent increase over three years, in addition to a 4.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment from the state over two years – isn’t enough, he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a ‘no’ vote in the general assembly, but I do think there will be a ‘no’ voice, and that voice will be significant,” he said. “The people downtown (district officials) need to know we have value.”

The recommended contract includes pay increases that aren’t significantly higher than what the school district offered before the walkout. Still, Phyllis Campano, vice president of the Seattle Education Association, said members of the union’s bargaining team felt the district’s incremental increase to its offer was important.

As negotiations dragged on early into the morning with little movement, she said, the district finally sweetened the deal by adding another $5 million in total pay increases over the three-year period, Campano said.

“The district was not going to move on any more money,” she said. “It was 2:30 a.m., when we finally got another $5 million, but it was pulling teeth. That was where they were at. I think if we held out any longer, they would’ve started taking stuff off the table.”

While preschool and other special-education teacher-student ratios were lowered, the ratio increased for teachers with students in the Access program. Access is a program that allows students to spend the majority of their time in general-education classrooms.

Sarah Arvey, a special-education teacher at Hamilton International Middle School, said that means each teacher will have responsibilities – such as coordinating schedules, writing education plans and working with other educators – for more students.

“This is an area that could have been negotiated further, and needs to be negotiated further,” said Arvey, who said she will vote against the contract.

Roxhill Elementary School teacher Trent Comer initially planned to vote against the agreement, but changed his mind after looking at the contract’s benefits. School is already in session, and teachers don’t want to go on strike again, he said.

“When I go through the tentative agreement, there are a lot of pros that don’t concern me or my paycheck, but do concern students and families in our communities,” Comer said. “There are things that are too good to keep negotiating.”

The Sept. 2 strike vote had one of the largest turnouts in the union’s history, Wood said. People are expecting a similar-sized crowd this weekend, said Shinn, who said he plans to vote yes.

“We’ve been telling people, ‘If you don’t show up, you don’t get to complain,’?” Shinn said. “Whatever the vote is, everyone needs to show up.”

Seattle Times reporter Lewis Kamb contributed to this report.

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