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Originally published September 16, 2011 at 8:22 AM | Page modified September 16, 2011 at 9:50 AM

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 are closed for a fourth...

The Tacoma News Tribune

quotes State law says it is illegal for public unions to strike. So they are in violation. ... Read more
quotes "The teachers are not asking for more pay. They are trying to avoid pay cuts while... Read more
quotes Back to work folks, each person fined $ 500 a day, offer to go back to work, ones... Read more

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Striking Tacoma teachers remain off the job despite a court order that told them to report for work, and schools are 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 their strike until the union and the district reach tentative agreement on a new contract.

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 school district spokesman Dan Voelpel. "We were not encouraged."

The union said the district did not offer a response to its proposal.

Negotiations were scheduled again Friday morning at 9:30.

At 1:30 p.m., lawyers for both Tacoma Public Schools and the Tacoma Education Association union were scheduled to appear in court before Chushcoff so he can determine whether 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 as the district had asked. But Tyler Firkins, attorney for the union, said he was not available for a hearing Thursday.

At the Dome on Thursday, 1,585 teachers showed up for a union meeting, and 1,478 of them voted to keep the strike going, said TEA President Andy Coons. TEA rules for declaring the strike initially were more stringent than those required to continue the strike, union officials said. Thursday's action required only a simple majority of members present at the Dome. The initial strike vote needed 80 percent of the entire membership to take effect.

"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 (Wednesday) and listened very carefully to what the judge said — and read his order," said Voelpel. "I didn't see anything that indicated to me that his decision was up for a vote."

At the Dome, teachers said that 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 today.

"I believe the judge will be fair and impartial," Uthus 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.

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."

One parent who contacted The News Tribune on Thursday said she was afraid to give her name because she fears repercussions. She said she's upset with teachers breaking the law but also thinks the district needs to get a new mediator to help settle the issues.

"There is a lot of animosity growing between parents and teachers, causing divides in friendships and families," the mom said. "This strike is causing much bigger issues than just disrupting our children's right to an education."

Mary Richards said her son cried Thursday when she told him he would have to wait a little longer for kindergarten to start. She filmed his reaction and posted it on YouTube.

Richards said teaching is hard work and she supports those who devote their lives to it — but she doesn't support a strike.

"I could never be a teacher. They do need support from parents, from the community and from the administration," said the mother who just relocated to Tacoma from Tennessee.

"However, I don't think having a strike and making sure school is canceled is the best way to do it."

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