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These Washington state teachers are going on strike, delaying the start of school

Teachers in Washington state want higher salaries.

CREDIT: Puyallup Education Association/Facebook
CREDIT: Puyallup Education Association/Facebook

Teachers in multiple school districts in Washington state are going on strike this week, delaying the start of school.

Tacoma and Puyallup teachers overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike on Tuesday night, with 97 percent and 98 percent of the two teachers unions approving a strike respectively, according to the News Tribune.

Puyallup teachers began striking on Wednesday, cancelling the district’s first day of schools. They are joining teachers in Centralia, Tumwater, and Tukwila school districts who also went on strike this week. Tacoma teachers will begin striking on Thursday, according to the union’s Facebook page. Thursday was supposed to be the first day of the school year for Tacoma Public Schools, and it has now been delayed.

Washington teachers are demanding higher salaries.

In June, the Washington Supreme Court said the state had fully implemented a school funding plan after a 2012 court order known as the McCleary Decision, which said Washington state violated its constitution when it underfunded its K-12 schools. State lawmakers recently put $2 billion toward teacher salaries in order to comply with the order, according to the Seattle Times.

The Tacoma School District offered teachers a 7.5 percent increase on average, but teachers say they want a 19 percent increase, Tacoma Education Association (TEA) President Angel Morton told the News Tribune. The union said the district isn’t providing the salary increases mandated under the McCleary Decision.

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“Our members made it clear that our administration must put students first and help shut the revolving door for school employees,” Morton said in a release to media. “Tacoma needs to be able to attract and keep great teachers, and we won’t be able to do that if our district squanders the McCleary promise when nearby districts agree to offer competitive, professional wages as the state intended.”

Puyallup teachers have been offered a 6.6 percent raise, the district said, which teachers also say is not high enough. One teacher who is in her 16th year of teaching at the Puyallup School District, Melissa Taylor, wrote about the demands for a higher salary on her personal Facebook page, which she shared to the teachers union page:

“Happiness is making a difference in the lives of our students. But happiness is also having the ability to pay off our student loans and pay for our own children to be involved in sports and clubs and after school activities, and also to be able to pay the mortgage or rent on our own Puyallup area homes.”

Puyallup Education Association members haven’t gone on strike in its 72 year-history, and Tukwila teachers haven’t found evidence of a strike for the past 80 years. Tacoma teachers last went on strike in 2011 for eight days and ended the strike after they reached a tentative agreement. Teachers wanted smaller class sizes and decried a proposed pay cut. There was no offer from the district to change class sizes, but teachers were told they would not face a 1.35 percent pay cut.

The current attorney general’s office upholds a 2006 opinion that found that teachers do not have the right to strike, according to the Yakima Herald. In 2006, then-Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna said of striking school employees, “In Washington, state and local public employees do not have a legally protected right to strike … No such right existed at common law, and none has been granted by statute.”

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But he added, “Although we have located three statutes affirmatively prohibiting public employees from striking, we have located no Washington statutes imposing penalties on employees of state or local government for engaging in a strike.”

That means there aren’t legal repercussions for now. However, school districts can bring unions to court and if a judge orders that the strike ends and school employees don’t comply, then employees could face fines or possibly jail time, according to the Yakima Herald.

Puyallup and Tukwila school districts passed resolutions that would allow the school districts to take legal action against individual striking teachers and the Centralia School District will also vote on this issue on Wednesday, the Seattle Times reported.

Teachers in Los Angeles are considering a strike as well after 98 percent of the teachers union voted to authorize a strike last week. It would be the first strike since 1989. Teachers are looking for a 6.5 percent raise and smaller class sizes. They’re also asking for more charter school accountability, reductions in standardized testing, and a $500 stipend for materials and supplies.

Last spring, a number of teachers went on statewide strikes to demand more school funding and higher salaries, including Oklahoma, West Virginia, Arizona, and Colorado. Some of the strikes resulted in higher salaries and more education funding.