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Judge prohibits Evergreen strike until at least Wednesday

District teachers picket as tensions grow

By , Columbian Education Reporter, and
, Columbian Education Reporter
Published:
6 Photos
Teachers and community members picket Friday at Evergreen High School amid contract negotiations.
Teachers and community members picket Friday at Evergreen High School amid contract negotiations. (Ariane Kunze/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A Clark County Superior Court Judge cleared the way for school to start Wednesday even if Evergreen School District teachers vote to strike.

Judge Suzan Clark on Friday issued a temporary restraining order requiring Evergreen’s 1,830 teachers to stay on the job through at least the first day of school. The restraining order is a temporary solution granted after the Evergreen School District filed for an injunction to prevent teachers from striking.

Clark’s decision comes just days before the union, the Evergreen Education Association, was set to vote Tuesday evening on whether to strike. The order prohibits district employees from striking, coercing other employees from refusing to do their job, interfering with building entrances or taking sick or personal leave to strike.

“I’m left in the position where I have to” issue the order, Clark said. “I don’t know what time Tuesday evening the vote is anticipated to take place, but you’re leaving people with less than 12 hours, most likely, to make child care arrangements and things for their children.”

Attorneys for the union argue the restraining order will “put the thumb” on the collective bargaining process.

Update

 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: A Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting the teachers from striking at least until Wednesday afternoon.

• What’s next: Mediated bargaining continues Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. 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.

“The concern is that the district has really not been engaging, coming to the table, and really working toward a resolution,” said Margaret Olney, an attorney representing the union. “They’re premature by calling out to stop a strike vote when the best way to stop a strike from happening is to come to the table to reach an agreement.”

The district and union, with the help of a state-appointed mediator, added bargaining days on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday if needed. Negotiations have been ongoing since March, and officials have only reached an agreement on curriculum. Four key bargaining points remain unsettled: 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.

It’s unclear what will happen if Wednesday morning comes and the school district is still without a contract.

“I think that’s something we’re going to have to talk about and strategize,” Olney said.

A Superior Court Judge will hear the district’s injunction at 1 p.m. Wednesday. The judge’s decision at that time may allow teachers to begin striking.

The district decided to file for a court injunction before the teachers had an opportunity to vote on a new contract or a strike vote because “we had received notification from the union that their intention was to go on strike if they didn’t get a contract,” said Gail Spolar, district spokeswoman. “That’s when we can go after the injunction. The union notified the district in an email earlier this week.”

“We’re in completely new territory,” said Rob Lutz, union president.

He added that the district filing a request for an injunction before teachers had an opportunity to take a strike vote was “the first time of my knowledge.”

“We won’t be intimidated,” Lutz said. “We’ll continue to fight for our students and our community. The legal action changes nothing. We’re at the bargaining table today. We’re going to continue to work with the mediator. Our general membership meeting is Aug. 30. Hopefully, we’ll have a tentative agreement to bring to members on Tuesday. If we don’t, we’ll have a strike vote.”

Friday picket

About 1,000 Evergreen Public Schools teachers picketed at four district high schools Friday morning.

Chanting “EEA! All the way!” teachers wearing red shirts and carrying signs walked on the sidewalk in front of Cascade Middle School and Evergreen High School on Northeast 28th Street.

Dale Folkerts, spokesman for Washington Education Association, the state teachers union, stood on the sidewalk and watched the picketing teachers. Last fall, he spent weeks in Pasco during their union’s strike.

“We still believe the issues should be settled at the bargaining table,” Folkerts said. “Asking a judge to silence teachers in the middle of negotiations does not resolve any of the critical classroom issues the Evergreen school board still must address.”

More than 26,000 students are enrolled in the district. It’s the largest school district in Southwest Washington, the sixth-largest statewide.

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 state cost of living adjustment.

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.

Columbian Education Reporter
Columbian Education Reporter

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