Day of Unity in Olympia focuses legislators on WEA priorities for 2018
Wednesday was WEA’s first-ever Day of Unity in Olympia, where teams of WEA members hand-delivered WEA’s 2018 Unity Agenda to more than half of the state’s 147 legislators.
The Unity Agenda outlines WEA’s legislative goals for 2018, including K-12 funding, equal bargaining rights for college faculty, retiree benefits, student loan forgiveness and legislation to help protect the rights of immigrant students and their families.
“Our Unity Agenda reflects the diversity of our membership and focuses on the needs of our students,” said Kim Mead, WEA president. “We are united in our commitment to our students and profession.”
Full-scope collective bargaining rights for community and technical college faculty are a top priority this year. The bill has passed the House in previous years, but was blocked by Republicans in the Senate. Now that Democrats control the Senate, the legislation stands a much better chance of passing this year. Community and technical college faculty are barred by current law from negotiating locally funded pay raises – the only group of public educators who are restricted from doing so.
Lee Falta is a faculty member at Bellingham Technical College and joined her K-12 colleagues from WEA Fourth Corner for Unity Day in Olympia. She said equal bargaining rights would allow faculty to negotiate the competitive, professional pay needed to attract and keep qualified instructors for students.
“I’ve been teaching college for 19 years. Every time we try to bargain salaries, we’re told by administrators, ‘We’re prohibited from bargaining salaries.’ The college administrators want the control – they don’t want to have to bargain,” Falta said. “It just doesn’t seem fair. K-12 teachers make more than I do. It’s frustrating.”
Education support professional Carie Sauders works in the Puyallup School District, and she said equal bargaining rights are a basic union issue.
“They should have the same bargaining rights we do as K-12 employees,” Sauders said of college faculty.
WEA member and Lower Columbia College faculty member Mark Gaither said, "I am very excited that WEA is prioritizing the community and technical college faculty equal bargaining rights bill and committed to its passage this year. Both House Bill 1237 and Senate Bill 5993 provide an easy fix to our antiquated and unfair collective bargaining law."
Legislation protecting the rights of immigrant students and their families is another Unity Agenda priority.
“The state constitution guarantees the right for every child to have a public education – that includes immigrant students whose status is under threat by the current administration,” said Shannon McCann, president of Federal Way Education Association.
Several legislators met with the entire group of WEA members and thanked them for their support. Representatives Pat Sullivan, Kristine Reeves, Laurie Dolan, Beth Doglio and Lillian Ortiz-Self, and Senators Sharon Nelson, Karen Keiser and Manka Dhingra all spoke.
After years in the minority, Nelson is now Senate majority leader – thanks to Dhingra’s victory in a special election last November. Hundreds of WEA members supported Dhingra, whose election changed control of the Senate.
“A fully funded public education system is the foundation of our country,” said Dhingra, who has two children enrolled at Redmond High School in the Lake Washington School District.
WEA members said legislators were interested in hearing about the Unity Agenda and how it benefits students.
“We had an extremely positive experience with our legislators,” Sauders said.
Added Adam Macdonald, a Wenatchee teacher: “Legislators are genuinely interested. They will listen to us.”
Everett Education Association President Jared Kink leads WEA’s Legislative Strategy Committee.
“I feel energized,” Kink said at the end of the Day of Unity. “Now we need to be engaged with legislators back home, too.”