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Alone no more: Sprague-Lamont rejoins WEA family

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Shannon Hughes Sprague-Lamont
Shannon Hughes, ELA teacher, Sprague-Lamont Education Association.

Shannon Hughes has been an active part of her school community – but she’s never joined WEA as a member.

Until now.

Hughes works in Lamont, a small town a half-hour southwest of Spokane, where she is the 5th-8th grade English Language Arts teacher, truancy officer and occasional fill-in principal. Educators in the combined local of Sprague-Lamont left WEA to try an alternate teachers’ association before she was hired. But continuing changes in education policy and funding made it clear something big was missing when it came time to negotiate a fair contract.

“The Legislature keeps changing things and it makes it super hard in a small district where we obviously wear many different hats,” Hughes says.

“Last fall we started talking about how are we going to be able to negotiate and do these things on our own,” Hughes recalls. “And so, we chose to try to bring in the WEA as well as the other organization, to talk about how they could go through this process. The WEA came out and explained what they could offer us. The other organization said, ‘Oh, we don’t help you bargain – at all.’”

Educators decided it was time to reconsider going it alone. New cards went out to authorize a union election, the vote was held, and Sprague-Lamont educators agreed to rejoin WEA. Educators met in late January to sign individual membership forms, and WEA’s board is scheduled to formally accept the new local this month.

“It really wasn’t a hard push,” Hughes’ recalls. “It was more, we were ready, and it was time for us to make a change.”

Hughes says the overriding sense in the Sprague-Lamont communities, with just over 100 students combined, is ohana, a willingness to watch out for one another as family. School employees had been willing to forego some of their own needs during negotiations out of a sense that their sacrifices would help their students.

“We’re all trying to support one another, and you’re trying to negotiate and support yourselves, it’s kind of hard because we don’t necessarily know if what we’re being given is fair,” Hughes says. “When it came down to it, (the concern was) how are we going to bargain? When we do ask for things it was kind of hard to get some of the things that we want, and we know it’s what would be best.”

Joining WEA has eased Hughes’ concerns about trying to negotiate rapidly changing policy and salary issues without having enough information to proceed.

“I’m ecstatic!” Hughes beams. “I’m ecstatic to belong to the WEA. I feel like it’s going to be a huge benefit.”

This story appears in the Winter issue of the WEA member magazine We 2.0.

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