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South Kitsap: Teachers strike, here’s what could have happened

August 30th, 2013 by Chris Henry

South Kitsap schools appear to have dodged a bullet. Sorry kids, probably no extended summer vacation for you.

The South Kitsap School District and its teachers’ union, which earlier this week agreed to strike over class sizes if needs be, reached a tentative agreement on a three-year contract late Friday.

Today, as I sat in the district office, summoned for a 1:15 p.m. press conference with SK Superintendent Michelle Reid, I thought things could have gone either way. So I researched what might have happened if the district and the South Kitsap Education Association had not reached an agreement, given the teachers’ union vote to strike earlier this week if a contract were not approved.

Districts can seek a court order forcing teachers back to work, as happened in the 2011 Tacoma teachers’ strike, I found.

A 2006 opinion issued by then-Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna said state and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike.

State statutes establish no specific penalties against striking teachers; that’s up to the judge. Teachers, as in the Tacoma strike, have defied court orders.

During a 2009 Kent strike, teachers faced the threat of a $200 per day court imposed fine, but a resolution was reached before penalties were imposed.

Since 1972, court injunctions have been granted in 28 of 34 cases in which they were sought to end strikes, according to an analysis of data from the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission by the Freedom Foundation. In one case, union officials were jailed.

The Freedom Foundation is a conservative think tank promoting government accountability.

In Kitsap County, there have been six strikes or near strikes over the years, two involving court injunctions. South Kitsap was involved in one near strike in 1975.

In 1974, Central Kitsap teachers had planned a one-day walkout before the contract was resolved. In 1975 in South Kitsap, there was a lockout of teachers by the district administration, delaying the start of school that year by three days.

In 1977, Bainbridge Island School District was one of eight districts statewide with impending strikes. Bainbridge teachers defied a court injunction during the four-day strike.

In 1978, Central Kitsap School District administrators hired replacement teachers, and school continued during a five-day strike, with no injunction.

North Kitsap teachers were on strike for five days in 1986; there was no court action.

The longest strike in Kitsap’s history was in 1994 in Bremerton School District. The district sought an injunction, which teachers voted to defy. An agreement was reached, however, before a court order was approved.

South Kitsap teachers had support from students, who posted their thoughts via Twitter, at #wearenotsardines.

By 7 p.m., I was starting to feel like I was on Pope-watch. Would it be gray smoke or white? The mood of people on both sides of the bargaining table was hard to read, poker faces all. But as the day wore on, I thought, “If they were really at an impasse, they all would have gone home.”

And sure enough, shortly after 7 p.m., a joyful burst of applause erupted from one of the district office conference rooms, where bargaining had been going on, hot and heavy, since 8 a.m.

The SKEA membership has yet to ratify the contract, but union President John Richardson expressed satisfaction in the agreement reached with concession on both sides.

(If you want the details of what those concessions are, you can read my story on the Kitsap Sun’s website.)

“We are happy to finally have a tentative agreement that makes real progress toward smaller class sizes,” Richardson said. “We thank the community for their support and look forward to our meeting on Tuesday.”

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One Response to “South Kitsap: Teachers strike, here’s what could have happened”

  1. Kathryn Simpson Says:

    Coulda, shoulda, woulda… interesting to think about, but now (thankfully) irrelevant. Thanks for looking up the history, Chris. I was trying to find some of that information and am glad you were able to share it with us.

    I am grateful, at this point, for the hard work both teams exerted to obtain a fair negotiated agreement that focuses on student success. While it stretches our budget requirements to extremely tight margins, our students are well served by the worthy compromise.

    Let’s just hope that the Legislature gets a thump upside the head from the State Supreme Court and speeds up full funding per the McCleary Decision. Our kids have deserved it for a long time!

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