Update: Seattle educators, vote no on ending the strike!
The SEA has announced it has reached a tentative agreement with SPS. No details of the TA have been released; the union stated it will at “best … provide a summary” while they “finalize the language of the full text.” In addition, the SEA has called for a full membership meeting Tuesday where a vote will be held to call off the strike.
Reject the undemocratic snap vote to halt the strike!
Demand sufficient time to study the TA!
Vote “No” and continue the strike!
The WSWS will provide further coverage as details of the agreement emerge.
* * *
Seattle educators: Tell us about the conditions at your school and why you’re striking! Contact the WSWS by filling out the form at the bottom of this article. All submissions will be kept anonymous.
Teachers, paraeducators and support staff in Seattle, Washington have entered the second week of on indefinite strike that began on September 7, a week after their contract expired on August 31.
The 6,000 workers are fighting for better classroom conditions, including more staff to aid the district’s tens of thousands of multilingual and English language learning students. They are also seeking higher wages for the lowest-paid members to allow teachers to live in a city with skyrocketing costs of living.
Seattle educators have been joined by other educators entering into struggle in Washington state. Over 100 teachers at the Eatonville School District have struck, as well as 200 in Ridgefield. And 90 paraprofessionals in Tumwater have voted to strike. They are all united in their demands for more staff, smaller class sizes and increased wages exceeding inflation to make up for years of stagnant pay.
Educators in Kent, Washington were on strike for over a week before the union announced an agreement to shut it down, cutting off Kent teachers from uniting with the Seattle strike.
In Seattle, the district is currently only offering a 6.5 percent increase in pay for the first year, and 2.5 percent increases during the second and third years of the contract. This is well below inflation and will amount to real cuts in wages for teachers and staff.
For staff, the district is only offering a single half-time social worker at high schools and 10 new nurses over three years for the entire district. This is totally inadequate under conditions in which SPS has only one nurse for every 1,000 students. Under the guise of “inclusion,” or integrating high-needs students in the general education environment, the district is abandoning concrete measures to fulfill safe staffing levels for the students who need the most support.
A special education teacher who has been teaching for five years made clear that “inclusion” has nothing to do with improving the quality of education for students. “This ‘inclusion model’ puts them in the classroom simply to be another number; but not really be included in the learning,” the teacher told the WSWS.
The Seattle Education Association (SEA) is keeping teachers entirely in the dark over its discussions with the school board, as it works with the National Education Association to try to bring the strike to an end. All the SEA has provided educators are updates that negotiations are ongoing and a three-page document entitled “What’s at stake.”
The document claims the union proposal “maintains and improves staffing ratios” for special education, without providing exact figures, and only “maintains the staffing ratios” for those helping to teach multilingual students. It also notes a proposal for raises to classified staff and a percentage increase in pay for certificated staff without stating what the actual dollar amounts are.
Most significantly, there is not mention of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the pandemic, the American Federation of Teachers and NEA , including the SEA, worked with the districts to impose agreements to reopen schools, which are vectors of transmission, despite massive opposition among school workers. More than half of all COVID-19 deaths across Washington state, more than 7,700, have occurred since schools were reopening in September 2021.
Now, the unions are working in tandem with the Biden administration’s drive to abandon all public health measures, on the basis of the false claim that the population must learn to “live with COVID” and accept the “new normal.”
Seattle teachers are in a powerful position to carry forward their struggle, expand and concretize their demands, and draw behind them the active support of broad sections of the working class.
A serious fight, however, requires educators to take the initiative through the formation of rank-and-file committees. Educators must prepare now to oppose any effort by the SEA and the NEA to shut the strike down on the basis of an agreement that does not meet educators’ demands.
In a recent statement, NEA President Becky Pringle noted that she is in direct talks with the president of the Washington Teachers Association, Larry Delaney, and local affiliates.
This should be seen as a warning. Only weeks before, the NEA affiliates worked with federal mediators to shut down a strike by 4,000 teachers in Columbus, Ohio without teachers being able to review the details and vote on the proposal. Given that nothing was done to unite the struggles of teachers in neighboring states, and that within Washington itself the Kent and Port Angeles strikes were totally isolated and betrayed, Seattle educators should expect the same from the SEA.
During the week-long strike in 2015, after teachers were kept isolated, then-SEA President Jonathan Knapp ordered them back to work without having seen or voted on the agreement that had been reached.
The SEA and WEA took up the same pattern in 2018, opposing the striving of Washington educators to conduct a unified statewide strike, which would have joined the nationwide teachers’ strike wave that spread from coast to coast. While a dozen districts were either on strike or preparing to strike, the SEA avoided a strike by rushing through a sellout agreement, which passed with only one-third voter turnout.
That contract provided a 10.5 percent wage increase for one year, at best just keeping up with inflation in Seattle, while maintaining overcrowded classrooms, high counselor- and nurse-to-student ratios, denied healthcare coverage to substitutes and forced poverty wages, less than $20 an hour, on paraeducators and office staff. As a result of the sellout contracts in Seattle and across the state, district after district announced plans for major budget cuts and layoffs.
In 2019, the SEA union pushed through another sellout contract, which covered up effective pay cuts, abysmal conditions and inadequate staffing with their commitment to “diversity” and “racial justice,” which was actually a system to base the hiring and firing of teachers based on race.
Seattle educators are in a powerful position. After decades of attacks on public education, carried out amid a record transfer of wealth from the bottom of society to the corporations and US military, educators confront the daily realities of the social crisis.
Moreover, the struggles in Washington occur in the broader context of the class struggle. On Monday, 15,000 nurses across Minnesota began a three-day strike for safe staffing and adequate pay raises.
There are 22,000 dockworkers across the West Coast, including in the Seattle-Tacoma area, that have been kept on the job without a contract for three months by the International Longshore and Warehouse Union bureaucracy in collusion with the Pacific Maritime Association and the Biden administration. And 100,000 railroad workers may strike on Friday in a brewing fight between the workers, on one side, and the trade union apparatus, corporations and Biden administration on the other. This is part of a growing movement of workers throughout the world.
These fellow teachers, nurses, dockworkers, railroaders and other workers are the most powerful allies of the Seattle teachers. In demanding the full funding required to hire more teachers, support staff and specialists, Seattle teachers run up against the whole political establishment, Democratic and Republican, which argues there is not enough money while supporting corporate tax cuts, increased police funding and record military budgets.
Winning their demands is not possible to the extent that Seattle teachers are left isolated to their district and from the working class as a whole.
The World Socialist Web Site calls upon educators to build an independent rank-and-file strike committee to ensure that the direction of their struggle is under the democratic control of the educators themselves. This includes the direct appeals to unite with educators, coordinate with one another, and oversee the negotiations and ratification process.
Educators must demand a massive hiring campaign for the district, contractual obligations for safe staffing ratios based on student need, as well as for a minimum pay of $30 an hour for all educators, across-the-board pay raises and cost-of-living adjustments that surpass inflation.