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The poor and disabled are hurt by this strike of choice

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Sep. 13, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
September 13, 2011 5:53 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

This morning, the Tacoma School District will ask Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff to order the city’s striking teachers back into their classrooms. If the decision hinges on the law – and the welfare of children and their families – there’s only one way he can go.

In its negotiations with the district, the Tacoma Education Association has been pushing for contract provisions that other unions might be pushing for under the same circumstances: protection from pay cuts, additional work and the judgment of principals.

Understandable. What’s not understandable is the strike itself. The teachers could keep on working while their union leaders keep on bargaining, something routinely done when a union contract expires while a new one is being negotiated.

In voting to strike Monday, the TEA and its members showed precious little empathy for the district’s largely low-income families.

Concerns about what’s happening to schoolchildren are callously dismissed. The mantra: “Schools aren’t day care centers.”

Actually, they very much are. Schools aren’t in the babysitting business, but they’re the most important places children are cared for outside their own homes.

Poverty is a core issue in this strike. Most of Tacoma’s schoolchildren come from homes of very modest income. About 60 percent of them – more than 17,000 – are eligible for subsidized lunches or breakfasts, a common benchmark of economic distress.

For many Tacoma children, those school lunches and breakfasts are the only reliable source of nutritious food during the school year. By keeping them out of school, the strike is denying them that nutrition.

As the district has pointed out, the strike – which costs teachers nothing – is hurting other vulnerable people. Roughly 800 district employees, including food-service workers and classroom assistants, do not have the guaranteed salaries teachers enjoy.

They tend to have low incomes, they work by the hour, and they don’t get paid when they don’t work. The strike could devastate them if it persists.

The strike has also barred the schoolhouse doors to roughly 4,000 special education and disabled children. For many of them, the schools are refuges where they receive attention and structure they don’t get anywhere else. “Day care centers” in the broadest and most important sense.

This strike is hurting people who can’t afford to be hurt. Imagine a single working mother barely making ends meet, barely able to buy school clothes for her children, living on the edge, losing precious wages if she is suddenly forced to stay home with children she assumed would be in school.

Judge Chushcoff, we trust, will keep such parents in mind as he makes his ruling on this strike of choice.

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