Seattle teacher strike suspended, students to return Wednesday

Seattle Public Schools educators voted Tuesday to suspend their five-day strike, pending a ratification of a full contract between the district and union.

A suspension means that educators will return to work Wednesday, and school will begin for all students.

The vote follows an announcement late Monday night that the union and district had reached a tentative agreement. Union members still need to vote on the agreement, likely later this week. If members reject the full agreement, the strike could start up again.

According to a tweet from the union, 78% of members voted and 57% of those members approved the motion to suspend the strike.

The vote came after a nearly eight-hour Zoom call with numerous tense exchanges between union leadership and general membership. At one point, more than 4,500 of the union’s 6,000 members were on the call, with many reporting they faced technical issues.

A member of the union allowed a Seattle Times reporter to listen in to the audio of the Zoom conversation, and at several points during the call, a clearly frustrated union president Jennifer Matter sparred with members over the union’s bylaws and procedures for voting and debating, calling several members out of order and muting mics.

“I did not sign up to be spoken to the way you have spoken to membership today,” one educator remarked. Matter apologized for her tone, adding she came from a place of love and appreciation, but the heated exchanges with members continued.

“I am losing my cool, everybody,” she said a few minutes later. “We can’t keep asking the same question over and over again,” referring to several requests to clarify the vote margins required to suspend the strike.

“Then you need to explain it better,” another educator responded.

Members who spoke on the call seemed to split; a faction supported a suspension of the strike, while another sizable group of educators complained they didn’t have sufficient time to review a summary of the attempted agreement, which union leadership shared close to midnight Monday.

Pointed questions from members continued after the union opened voting at around 3 pm Union leaders kept the call open until the poll closed at 4:30 pm

A full membership vote to suspend a strike is a departure from 2015, the last time the union struck. In that instance, the union’s leaders and a representative assembly of the membership voted to suspend their work stoppage.

A copy of the full contract was not immediately available, and typically isn’t made public until ratified by union members. The contract also must be approved by the school board.

But a summary showed Seattle educators and the district agreed to pay raises of 7% for both certified and classified staff. Originally, the district proposed a 6.5% increase, which included a state-funded 5.5% inflationary adjustment.

In the second year of the contract, members would receive a 4% salary increase for inflation and 3% the following year. If the state funds a higher inflationary adjustment, union members will receive whichever is greater, the tentative agreement says.

Classified staff — employees who don’t need an education certificate — will also receive a one-time bonus in December of $1,500. That category includes educational assistants and office staff.

Under the new contract, if approved, classified substitutes would have some of the same benefits as certified substitutes—increasing sick days and bereavement leave after being on assignment for 20 days, having senior sub status, and receiving enhancements to professional development.

Another contentious point in bargaining was whether to use teacher-to-student ratios in the special education and multilingual programs. Educators wanted to keep ratios and the district wanted to have a workload calculator model instead.

According to the contract summary, most teacher-to-student ratios for students with individualized education programs (IEPs) stayed the same. Some instructional aids were added to classrooms to support students with IEPs. If approved, the district’s Special Education Taskforce will create a workload calculator to be used by the 2023-24 school year at a select number of schools.

Specifics of the workload calculator weren’t available in the summary, which said staffing ratios will be maintained at the schools using the tool and “further use of the workload calculator will have to be bargained.”

Staffing and student ratios in the multilingual program would also remain the same, according to the summary. Added incentives for teachers to receive English language and dual language endorsements would be included in the contract if approved. There would also be retention bonuses for educators who already have those endorsements.

The new contract would add workload protections for teachers, school counselors, nurses, and social workers.

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