Contract negotiations between Evergreen Public Schools and its teachers union intensified Thursday with the district mobilizing to file a request for a court injunction to prevent teachers from striking.
Attorney Tracy Miller with Seattle law firm Karr Tuttle Campbell will file the injunction Friday, according to Gail Spolar, district spokeswoman.
State law addresses strikes by public employees, but not teachers specifically. Public employees do not have a right to strike. However, the law does not establish any automatic penalties for striking. But a court can impose penalties on public employees.
In response to the district’s actions, union President Rob Lutz read a statement at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in front of the district’s administrative headquarters: “This unprecedented step by the district to take its teachers to court before scheduled contract negotiations have finished shows what little regard the Evergreen School District has for its own staff and students. … This lawsuit confirms the Evergreen school board would rather spend tax dollars suing teachers than providing adequate staffing in our classrooms, adequate supplies for our students, and attracting great teachers to our district during a statewide teacher shortage.”
Meanwhile, mediated contract negotiations continue between the district and the Evergreen Education Association.
• Previously: A state-appointed mediator joined contract negotiations between Evergreen Public Schools and the teachers union, Evergreen Education Association last week. The union and district have reached a tentative agreement regarding curriculum, but four key bargaining issues remain.
• What’s new: The district plans to file a request for a court injunction against the union Friday. In response, the union released a statement criticizing the action.
• What’s next: Mediated bargaining continues Friday. Teachers will picket at the district’s high schools at 8 a.m. Friday. At Tuesday’s union membership meeting, teachers will either ratify a new contract or vote to strike. The current contract expires Wednesday, the first day of school.
With only five days before classes begin, the district’s 1,830 teachers still do not have a new contract. A state-appointed mediator joined the talks last week in an effort to bring the two groups to agreement. But time is running out.
The union completed a “comprehensive counterproposal to the district” Wednesday afternoon, said Lutz. Thursday the union waited for a response from the district. The district’s response — a request seeking a court injunction — is not what the union expected.
“The district now has less than a week to negotiate before they can expect schools to be closed for a strike,” the union posted to members on its website Thursday morning. “Your voice is critical in deciding whether (hopefully) to accept a tentative contract agreement, or to go on strike beginning Wednesday.”
Wednesday is the district’s first day of school and when the teacher contract expires.
One point of certainty has been established. A teachers’ strike would not affect high school sports. However, middle school sports will not occur if the teachers strike, according to FAQs posted on the district website Thursday.
The union will hold a general membership meeting Tuesday night. If there is a tentative contract agreement, teachers will vote to ratify the contract.
If the two sides can’t work out a new contract by Tuesday’s union meeting, union members will take a strike vote.
The union and district reached a potential agreement on curriculum Wednesday. However, four key bargaining points remained: salary and benefits competitive with the state’s 10 largest districts; more support for special education students; additional counselors and support services; and securing enough substitute teachers by offering higher pay.
More than 26,000 students are enrolled in the district. It’s the largest school district in Southwest Washington.
Evergreen teachers made between $40,417 and $76,179 in total compensation during the 2015-2016 school year. Without additional district money added to their pay through bargaining, district teachers would earn between $41,144 and $77,549 during the 2016-2017 school year. That bump in pay is the result of a raise from the state.
• The union offers statements regarding stalled contract negotiations and a potential strike at http://www.eeaoffice.com
• The district offers responses to frequently asked questions at www.evergreenps.org/Portals/0/District/Docs/FAQs_082416.pdf?ver=2016-08-25-163517-253
Since early this year, the school district has retained Porter Foster Rorick, a Seattle law firm that specializes in school law and municipal law, to bargain on behalf of the district. Lance Andree, the firm’s attorney assigned to the case, has been involved since the negotiations began in March.
The union is assisted in negotiations by the local Washington Education Association UniServ director.
There are some similarities between the situation in Evergreen and contentious contract negotiations in Kelso School District in September.
After contract negotiations stalled between the Kelso district and its union, teachers went on strike and caused a school stoppage. The district filed a request for an injunction. A judge ruled in favor of the district and ordered teachers back to work.
Kelso school district also retained Porter Foster Rorick and worked with the same attorney as Evergreen.