Monday, January 17, 2022
Jan. 17, 2022

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Washougal, Hockinson teachers vote to approve strikes

By , Columbian Staff Writer
Published:

Two more teachers unions joined the list of districts heading toward a strike with a week to go before the start of school.

On Tuesday, the Washougal Association of Educators and Hockinson Education Association both overwhelmingly voted to approve potential strikes if agreements can’t be reached by the first day of classes, which is scheduled for Aug. 28 in Washougal and Aug. 29 in Hockinson.

At Washougal’s general membership meeting Tuesday, 96 percent of 179 members present voted to approve a strike. In Hockinson, 97 percent of the 105 members in attendance at a general membership meeting voted in favor of a strike.

“It’s a hard step to take,” said Eric Engebretson, president of the Washougal union. “It’s a hard choice for somebody to say, ‘Yes, I’m going to walk the picket line.’ ”

The districts join the Vancouver Education Association and Ridgefield Education Association as local unions to vote in favor of a strike. Teachers in Evergreen Public Schools and Battle Ground Public Schools are expected to hold their strike votes later this week, and teachers in Camas have called for a strike vote on Monday if there is no new agreement to vote on.

In an electronic vote starting Thursday night and running through midday Monday, 92.7 percent of 1,234 Vancouver teachers gave the union permission to call for a work stoppage if no new contract is reached by Aug. 27. In Ridgefield, 97.8 percent of 135 members attending a meeting Friday voted to approve a strike should a new agreement not be in place by the first day of classes, scheduled for Aug. 29.

“Teachers are just fed up,” Engebretson said. “We just want to be paid what we are paid to do.”

Teacher unions and school districts around the state are negotiating new salary schedules for teachers this summer thanks to the McCleary decision, a Supreme Court case that determined Washington was failing to fully fund basic education. As part of the decision, $7.3 billion was allocated to the state school system last year, and the Legislature added another nearly $1 billion for teacher salaries this year. The Washington Education Association is pushing its membership to ask for 15 percent raises for certified teachers, and 37 percent raises for the classified support staff represented by some teachers unions.

So far, only teachers in Woodland have reached a new deal. In the Woodland deal, teachers received a 22.82 percent increase in base salary, which nets a roughly 12.5 increase in overall salary compensation from the year prior.

Washougal update

With one of the earlier start dates in the county, the union and district will have less than a week to agree on a new deal before the first day of school. The two sides are scheduled to return to the bargaining table on Friday, and nothing is planned beyond that. Engebretson said if no agreement is reached by the end of Friday’s meeting, the union is open to more bargaining before the first day of school on Tuesday.

“The district is still very optimistic we’ll still be able to work at the table with the association to come to an agreement,” Superintendent Mary Templeton said.

At the last bargaining session, the district requested a state mediator for future sessions, and the union declined to sign the joint request. Engebretson said the union is OK with the district requesting a mediator, but the union doesn’t think one is necessary.

“If they want to have a mediator come in, they absolutely can,” he said. “We don’t care. We think we can work it out between the two sides.”

According to information sent out by the district, the district’s latest offer is a 26 percent increase in base salary and a 15.5 percent increase in overall compensation package. To get there, the district is using money coming in from the state, as well as some of the district’s reserves. The salary range in the latest offer will allow teachers to make somewhere between $50,000 and $94,000.

Engebretson said the union disagrees with the district’s numbers, as well as how they’re getting to those figures.

Templeton said the district is encouraged by the possibility of a mediator joining the two sides at the table, and that the district values its relationship with teachers.

“We’re here to honor our teachers,” she said.

“We’re willing to spend whatever time is required between now and next week when school is starting to continue to work and talk.”

Hockinson update

In the union’s release about its strike vote, it called the strike vote “the most difficult decision we have made in the history of the (Hockinson Education Association).” The union has roughly 120 members, according to Megan Miles, co-president of the union.

“From what the membership has been saying and what they’ve been requesting, I’m not too surprised,” Miles said. “This is huge for Hockinson to vote like this, but it also shows that teachers are ready to be valued for the work they do.”

Miles said the two sides are still “pretty far apart.”

“Our district is fortunate to have a staff that is caring, creative and hard-working,” Superintendent Sandra Yager said in a statement from the district. “As in previous negotiations, our negotiations team is going to give them as much as we can, as long as it’s affordable and sustainable for the district, now and into the future.”

According to information sent out from the district, the latest offer is an 8 percent increase for a total average compensation of $74,463. The salary range would be $46,552 to $87,845 for teachers in the district.

“We look forward to finalizing this contract and doing what we all love to do best: providing high-quality instruction to our fantastic Hockinson students,” Yager said in a statement.

The two sides are negotiating a full teacher contract this summer; other districts are in the middle of contracts and working on new salary schedules for teachers. Miles said the two sides are also working through some other issues, including support language for special education and class size.

The district requested a state mediator, and the district and union filed a joint request for one. The two sides will hold their first bargaining session with a mediator on Sunday, and have another session planned for Monday. Miles said if an agreement isn’t reached after their “marathon bargain,” as she called it, Sunday and Monday, there’s a possibility the two sides could meet again on Tuesday. If they do have to meet Tuesday, Miles said that could put the first day of classes, scheduled for the following day, in jeopardy.

The union is telling members to keep on as though the school year will start on time. It wants teachers to continue setting up their classes and attending training sessions.

“We want everything to be ready for our kids,” she said. “That’s who we serve. It is all about those kids. It’s important for those kids to see their teachers stand up for what they know they’re worth, because we want our kids to do same.”

Columbian Staff Writer
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