Winning big without strikes

Planning, organizing, compelling stories and firm resolve are key ingredients for success

Consider it a tale of two cities: Teachers struck 14 days in Pasco before district leaders acknowledged the need for significantly higher wages, new curriculum and less testing. But across the bridge in Richland, teachers won similar gains without a noisy strike. And for ESP members statewide, strikes are prohibited by law.

Although strikes sometimes are necessary, most locals win solid contracts for members without striking. While the bargaining goal adopted by WEA’s Board (a 5 percent salary increase plus any raises from the state) at first seemed impossible, locals found that with solid organizing, clear goals, regular communications and firm resolve, they not only could meet that goal, but exceed it.

Being prepared with research and organizing is crucial, Richland EA President Ken Hays believes: Initially, his district argued all its money had been budgeted.

“When the association pointed out that even after all of their alleged allocations were taken into consideration there were still several million dollars up for grabs, the district dropped all pretense,” Hays recalls. “District administrators were also shaken by how quickly we organized members for the May 21 (legislative) walkout. The walkout helped show a unified front.”

The Coupeville Educational Support Association was also a trendsetter, winning salary gains of 8 percent and 6.8 percent over two years. WEA Fourth Corner UniServ Director Nick Lawrie says the bargaining team’s strongest arguments came from the stories of their own members. CESA’s Tammy Glover recounted the years of miniscule wage growth, which meant losing ground to inflation and forcing even veteran school employees into poverty if they faced mortgage or car payments.

“The administration could see our determination for a collaborative process,” recounts Coupeville bargaining team member Steve Ellis. “It left them very little room to maneuver.”

Adds Co-President Deanna Schulz, “We spoke from our hearts and shared with the district the financial challenges we had been facing. We felt heard.”

Because of wide-ranging job duties, ESP settlements can be tricky to compare. But here’s a look at some milestones this past year. Additional locals achieved similar gains:

To ensure professional-technical staff make at least $15 an hour, minimum pay increased as much as 24.8 percent at Bates Technical College in Tacoma. Most Bellingham ASE staff won a 6 percent pay hike, but staff with 10-plus years will see an 11.2 to 11.4 percent gain. Clarkston Classified’s lowest paid employees saw a 27 percent gain. Spokane Nutritional Services won a 9.5 percent increase; Spokane Secretarial/Clerical staff won an 8.5 percent increase. Eastmont Paraeducators won increases of 9 percent this year and 3.5 percent next year.

“We had each others back,” says Coupeville’s Renee Kisch. “We took a team approach and feel we had a winning season.”