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UPDATE – Strikers back to work but Evergreen says labor action forces postponement of ‘Return to Evergreen’ event planned Saturday

Post by Brad Shannon / The Olympian on May 30, 2013 at 5:09 pm with No Comments »
May 31, 2013 9:30 am
Les Purce, president of Evergreen
Les Purce, president of Evergreen

Update: Our print version of this post  is here.

An ongoing labor dispute between The Evergreen State College leaders and a union representing 57 student-support services workers is still at a virtual impasse, and the college announced it is postponing Saturday’s “Return to Evergreen” gathering of alumni out of worry about disruptions from workers.

In the meantime, the parties report they are getting back into mediation under the guidance of the Public Employment Relations Commission, a state agency, after a one-day walk-out. The workers who include residence advisers, counselors and coaches walked off the job on Tuesday, disrupting some college activities, but were back working Wednesday.

College spokesman Todd Sprague said the ongoing labor dispute and potential for disruption at Saturday’s public event led the school to postpone its “Return to Evergreen” until sometime in the fall. About 150 alumni, faculty and others were expected.

“Unfortunately, representatives of the Student Support Services Exempt Staff bargaining unit, with whom the college is currently negotiating a first contract, and supporters of the Washington Federation of State Employees have communicated plans to engage in labor actions related to and/or during the planned event,” Sprague said in an email.

But a second event – the school’s yearly Science Carnival displaying the work of science students – will go on as planned Friday and Saturday, according to Sprague.

The Washington Federation of State Employees had taken out a full-page ad in The Olympian on Thursday that was headlined, “Return to Evergreen?” and it went on to talk about the support-staff union’s 17-month quest to win a first contract. Tim Welch, spokesman for the federation, said the college was taking a “preemptive strike” by canceling an event even before workers had decided on a course of action for Saturday.

Courtney Bailey, a member of the SSSSU’s bargaining team, said her union has been calling on the college to continue talks. She also said “our intent wasn’t to disrupt the event but to give information to people. I’m sad they canceled it… I hope they do it again.’’

The new union formed about roughly 17 months ago and is trying to secure its first contracts. The top divisive issues in the talks are rules for disciplining and firing employees for just cause and pay.

In a written statement Tuesday, Evergreen President Les Purce said that the college has already offered the student services employees just cause protections in disciplinary proceedings, as well as salary raises for this year and next year that are “comparable to plans for other exempt employees at the College.” Purce said that college officials were surprised the union chose to strike.

But Bailey has said the college’s offer leaves the review of disciplinary actions against employees in the hands of college managers. The union wants an independent review of decisions to discipline or fire employees, she said. The union also regards the college’s offer of 4 percent in pay raises over two years as less than the 7.5 percent received by faculty.

Sprague said “Return to Evergreen” was educational and included seminars.

“It’s our sense that the uncertainties caused by these union communications and potential actions could pose challenges for both staffing and seminar participation that could negatively impact the event experience for participants,” his statement said. “Because the college does not want alumni or other guests to travel to campus with the intent of participating, only to have those plans obstructed by the union, the event is being postponed until fall 2013.”

Those registered for the event are being contacted directly that the event is cancelled, Sprague said.

Two right of center think tanks have suggested the strike is illegal but neither Sprague nor the state Attorney General’s Office was willing to comment Thursday on what actions the state or school might take if workers leave their jobs again. State workers in Washington “do not have a legally protected right to strike,” but state law does not expressly prohibit it,according to information posted on the state Attorney General’s Office web site. 


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