Office professionals and paraeducators working with the Issaquah School District voted to authorize a strike at a union meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 15.
Paraeducators of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 925’s yes vote won with 94 percent of the vote. Similarly, 98 percent of office professionals from the Issaquah Chapter of the Public School Employees of Washington SEIU Local 1948 voted yes to authorize the union to strike.
Now that a vote has passed, a strike committee will be formed to determine when the strike will begin.
The vote to authorize a strike comes after workers filed grievances against the school district stating parts of their previous agreement with the district are not being honored.
In a written statement, the Issaquah School District (ISD) said it is “surprised” by the unions’ vote to strike.
“We have contracts with both that include language that outlines the process by which disagreements are to be resolved. At this point, the grievance process outlined in the contracts, that were mutually agreed to, has not yet been completed,” ISD wrote. “According to these contracts, the next step is arbitration.”
Last September, ISD office personnel and paraeducators said they were expecting to see the salary increases as well as the cost of living adjustment (COLA) increases they had each bargained for during last year’s contract negotiation.
COLAs, also known as “pass-throughs,” function to counteract the effects of inflation identified by the State of Washington through legislation or initiative.
The district honored its contract agreement for the office personnel’s salary increase of 2.5 percent and the paraeducators salary increase of 4 percent, but the office personnel and paraeducators say the district is not honoring the contract agreement for each group’s COLA.
Emily Freet, the assistant to the principal at Maple Hills Elementary and new chapter president of the Issaquah Association of Educational Office Professionals, said when she received the news that not only were they not receiving their COLA, but also the term itself no longer existed, she lost trust with the district.
“The district usually tells us what [the COLA] will be, but when we hadn’t heard from them our union rep reached out to the district and asked what it was going to be this year, and they said we weren’t going to be getting a COLA this year — that the term no longer exists,” Freet said. “They said they were going to replace it with a few other things, but that it wouldn’t even come to half of what the COLA raise would have been… We were startled, to say the least, because we were in the middle of the contract. They had already agreed to pay us that money. That money was scheduled and funded, and they chose not to pay us.”
The paraprofessional’s union, known as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and the educational office personnel union, known as the Public School Employees Union (PSE) have been working to come to a consensus with the district.
In a statement responding to the grievances filed by the unions, ISD stated it “finds itself in disagreement the SEIU and the PSE.”
According to ISD, the State of Washington did not identify nor allocate through legislation or initiative any COLA or pass-through for the 2018-2019 contract year, thus there is no misinterpretation or misapplication of the closed Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs).
The COLA referenced in the CBAs that has been allocated by the state and subject to the requirements of RCW 28A.400.206 are no longer allocated to the District under the new structure of EHB 2242 (2017) and ESSB 6362 (2018) as they have been previously.
“The 1.9 percent and 3.1 percent numbers referenced in the grievances are not a COLA funded by the state and allocated to the district, as asserted. These numbers were measurements determined by the IPD and consumer price index metric, respectively, for the 2017 calendar year and represent an expenditure restriction imposed by the dtate,” a district press release said.
Freet said neither the office personnel or the paraeducators want to go on strike and that they “don’t want to be in this position.”
In a press release published after the vote, paraprofessional Chrissy Richmond said ” A cost-of-living increase is clearly stated in our contract, but the school district has refused to honor this despite the fact that we testified at two school board meetings and filed an official grievance. We want Issaquah to follow the lead of the 290 other school districts in Washington and pass on the COLA increase to classified staff.”