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Teachers union members stop short of strike call

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on May 14, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
May 14, 2011 6:49 pm

How do teachers feel about the pay cuts being considered in Olympia? A vote today, at a gathering of union activists in the Washington Education Association, can be seen as one measure of how angry they are.

Delegates at the WEA Representative Assembly in Tacoma chose between two strategies for action next year in the event of pay cuts: a loosely defined ”day of action,” leaving details up to local districts, or a Sept. 21 one-day strike.

To some extent, the question was symbolic because local unions would likely have to poll their members on any strike no matter what the statewide organization says.

Still, the issue of whether to proclaim “no pay, no day, no way” produced a long and occasionally emotional debate.

One educator who urged a strike said he and other protesters who slept in the Capitol Rotunda in Olympia demonstrated the power of collective action. An opponent said while her local union would probably strike during a day of action, those in other school districts might handle it differently. One member pointed out the state is broke, while another said there must be money to pay educators if private jet owners get a tax break.

In the end, the assembly voted comfortably against a strike, then more narrowly approved the statewide day of action.

On Friday, Gov. Chris Gregoire spoke to the assembly and reportedly was greeted with standing ovations despite signing on to proposals for teacher pay cuts. Today, they stood and cheered again for U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, who’s warming up for a 2012 re-election campaign. Cantwell told the crowd:

  • “Investment in education, and the workforce it takes to deliver that, will help us secure a better economic future for all Americans.”
  • Collective bargaining is under attack, she said. “I’m going to continue to fight to make sure that collective bargaining is the law of the land, not just here in Washington State.”
  • She said federal funding should be distributed to school districts by set formulas, not as competitive grants. “Students shouldn’t have to compete for a good education,” she said.
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