The Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals on Wednesday raised the stakes in their ongoing negotiations with Vancouver Public Schools.
About 500 paraeducators, clerks, secretaries and other support staff voted unanimously to hold a strike vote if a deal is not reached by Feb. 1.
“We’re hoping they listen,” VAESP President Andrea Adams said. “These are all their classified employees saying we want our share of McCleary money that they sent for us.”
The district responded in turn with a news release saying union leaders walked out of state-mediated bargaining at 6:30 p.m. without presenting a counteroffer, despite previous plans to negotiate late into the evening.
The general membership meeting at Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School — spitting distance from the district offices where negotiators worked nearly nine hours Wednesday — was the latest in months of bargaining between the 716-member union and district officials.
The ongoing negotiations mirror those Clark County’s teachers’ unions experienced for weeks, which prompted school shutdowns.
The district’s latest proposal includes an 8.5 percent salary increase this school year, increasing to 15.5 percent by 2021-22. The district projects its current proposal would cost $12 million over the next four years.
VAESP members must work 25 years before topping out the salary schedule. A special education paraeducator who has worked for 25 years or more, for example, would see their hourly wage increase from $20.71 an hour in 2017-2018 to $23.89 in 2021-22.
According to the district, VAESP’s proposal earlier this month would include 20.6 percent salary increases, costing the district $4.93 million. Lynn Davidson with the regional office of the Washington Education Association said the union has come down on that number, but declined to provide specifics.
Davidson estimated VAESP members make, on average, about $20,000 a year. In their current salary schedule, for example, special education paraeducators are paid $17.03 an hour for the first six years of employment. Davidson said those employees only work 6.5 hours a day, 180 days out of the year. Many work multiple jobs, she said.
“We want the salary schedule to acknowledge their effort and work,” she said.
It’s unclear what the impacts would be to schools locally if members voted to strike, but Adams believes union members in the Vancouver Education Association would be unlikely to cross the picket line.
“It’ll shut the district down,” she said.
School was already closed for four days in the district when teachers went on strike in August.
The vote and district’s news release represent an antagonistic shift in negotiations that have appeared, at least in public, more amenable up until now.
Some members of the audience crammed into the closed meeting asked that the strike start immediately, Adams said. But, she said, “we’ve worked a long time on this and we want to give it every opportunity to get there.”