Washington state teachers strike over pay, conditions

By Edwin Fruit
September 17, 2018

LONGVIEW, Wash. — Members of the Longview Education Association went on strike Aug. 23 as the school board here has refused to grant the wage increases teachers are demanding.

“This is a union town. We have had firefighters, longshore workers and paper workers all come to the picket lines,” Kris Lambert, who has taught math for 15 years, told the Militant Aug. 29 as she was picketing outside Mark Morris High School.

Some 200 school districts across the state are still negotiating contracts with the Washington Education Association as the new school year opens.

In June the state Supreme Court handed down the McCleary Decision, a ruling that mandates the state legislature to allocate $2 billion for teachers’ salaries statewide. The funding must be negotiated by Washington Education Association affiliates with each of the state’s school districts.

The Longview Education Association demands an 11 percent increase while the school board offers 6.9 percent. The court “allocated the money for salaries but the school board is not giving what it should,” Annette Bradshaw, a school secretary for 14 years, told the Militant.

“Teachers are underpaid and they teach the future of this country,” said Lannon Ruiz, a senior at Mark Morris High School, who joined the picket line along with other students.

Erin Moon and Saskia Rivera, teachers at St. Helens Elementary School, walked the picket line near R.A. Long High School that day. Moon has been teaching for 10 years and is still paying off a $25,000 student loan.

“I pay $400 a month just for that,” she said. “I am glad to see that all three unions are in this together. We decided that we will not settle until all of them get their fair share.”

The other unions are Service Employees International Union Local 925, representing maintenance and food service workers, para educators and school bus drivers, and the Longview Public Employees Association, representing school secretaries.

“I have four kids and have to live with my parents,” Rivera said. “I have $80,000 in student loans to pay. I buy school supplies and sometimes bring in breakfast for some kids I know have not had any at home.” She added that she is proud that teachers, the majority women, have stood up for what they believe.

Socialist Workers Party members went door to door here to discuss the school workers’ fight and help win solidarity. We met Shelly Porter, a member of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 21. Porter was active in the longshore workers’ victorious fight against union-busting attacks by EGT Development, which attempted to use nonunion labor on their job site in 2011 and 2012.

Porter said she and her daughter, who is entering high school, had joined the rallies and marched on the picket line. “The teachers deserve their raises. Look at all the money they spend on school supplies,” she said. “This is a union town and we all have to stick together.”

Seattle teachers reached a tentative one-year agreement giving school personnel there a 10.5 percent increase, averting a strike.? Tukwila and Puyallap teachers hit the picket lines Sept. 5 and Tacoma teachers Sept. 6. Teachers in Clark County in southwest Washington walked out in the Evergreen, Washougal, Vancouver, Battle Ground, Hockinson and Ridgefield districts.