Defiant Tacoma teachers to stay on strike
Striking Tacoma teachers remain off the job despite a court order that told them to report for work, and schools will be closed for a fourth straight day as the teachers union and school district prepare for a courtroom faceoff on Friday.
The News Tribune
Striking Tacoma teachers remain off the job despite a court order that told them to report for work, and schools will be closed for a fourth straight day as the teachers union and school district prepare for a courtroom faceoff Friday.
Teachers also plan a rally Friday morning at the school district's downtown administration building.
They returned to picket lines Thursday morning, and later more than 1,500 of them gathered in the Tacoma Dome. More than 90 percent voted to continue striking until the union and the district reach a tentative contract agreement.
Bargaining resumed Thursday — a condition that was also part of Wednesday's order by Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff. The union presented a proposal that touched on the three major unresolved issues: pay, class size and contract language governing teacher transfers and reassignments.
"Our negotiating team determined that it needed to evaluate the impacts of that proposal," said schools spokesman Dan Voelpel. "We were not encouraged."
The union said the district did not offer a response to its proposal.
Negotiations are scheduled again Friday morning at 9:30.
At 1:30 p.m. Friday, lawyers for both Tacoma Public Schools and the Tacoma Education Association (TEA) union are to appear in court before Chushcoff so he can determine if the parties have complied with his order.
The school district filed a request Thursday for an expedited hearing after teachers took to the picket lines instead of reporting for work. But Tyler Firkins, attorney for the union, said he was not available Thursday.
At the Tacoma Dome on Thursday, 1,585 teachers showed up for a union meeting, and 1,478 voted to keep the strike going, said TEA President Andy Coons. Union rules for declaring the strike were more stringent than those required to continue the strike, union officials said. Thursday's action required only a simple majority of members present. The initial strike vote needed 80 percent of the entire membership.
"Each time we have this vote, it gets stronger," Coons said. "You are sending a message to Tacoma's administration and School Board to listen to your teachers."
School district officials say the judge's order Wednesday was clear: that teachers should go back to work while negotiating continues.
"I sat in the courtroom and listened very carefully to what the judge said — and read his order," Voelpel said. "I didn't see anything that indicated to me that his decision was up for a vote."
At the Tacoma Dome, teachers said even though they remain off the job, they are looking forward to productive negotiations.
"I am very glad the school district is back at the negotiating table with us," said John Uthus, a Foss High School teacher. He said teachers were ready to start contract talks in March but the district didn't start until late May.
"I will be walking a picket line until a fair settlement is reached," he said.
He said he's not worried about what Chushcoff will do in court Friday.
"I believe the judge will be fair and impartial," he said.
Wilson High School teacher Betina Stanley said she joined the strike because district negotiators wouldn't budge on proposed contract language that educators fear would be too subjective when transfers are considered.
"We don't want to be treated subjectively," she said. "We wouldn't do that to our students."
Many parents are backing teachers on the picket lines, walking with them and bringing coffee and snacks. Others marched downtown with students.
"I'm supporting the teachers because (Superintendent Art) Jarvis is a bully," said Nancy Coogan, parent of a Wilson High School student. "He needs to stop being a bully and be a leader."
Other parents were beginning to show signs of strike fatigue Thursday.
Mary Richards said her son cried Thursday when she told him he would have to wait a little longer to start kindergarten. She posted his reaction on YouTube.
Richards said teaching is hard work and she supports those who devote their lives to it — but not the strike.
"I could never be a teacher. They do need support from parents, from the community and from the administration," she said.
"However, I don't think having a strike and making sure school is canceled is the best way to do it."
Delia Trujillo, interviewed at her Portland Avenue home, said she doesn't have strong feelings about the issues surrounding the strike but doesn't understand why a resolution couldn't be found before school began.
"This just delays children's learning," said the mother of three.
Trujillo has been working a temporary job at the Puyallup Fair and had to take time away to care for her two younger kids. Trujillo has paid $150 to a neighbor to care for her children, and said the neighbor has school-age kids home, too.
"We pay taxes for our children's education, and where is it going?" Trujillo said. "They're home."
News Tribune staff writers Adam Ashton and Kathleen Cooper contributed to this report.
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