[Marxism] Tacoma teachers continue strike with student support in defiance of injunction

Dan Russell proletariandan at gmail.com
Fri Sep 16 10:42:48 MDT 2011



Tacoma teachers defy injunction to strike
Dan Trocolli, a teacher and member of the Seattle Education
Association, reports on the high stakes in a struggle of fellow
teachers in Tacoma.

September 16, 2011

Striking teachers in Tacoma, Wash., have defied a judge's order
(Darrin Hoop | SW)
TEACHERS IN the Tacoma Education Association (TEA) voted September 15
by a 93 percent margin to continue their strike and defy a judge's
order to return to work. The strike began after a TEA union meeting
September 12, when 87 percent of the approximately 1,900 TEA members
voted to strike a week after the start of school.

At the heart of the impasse is the issue of the use of seniority in
teacher displacements and transfers.

Nathan Gibbs-Bowling, a teacher at Lincoln High School, says a
proposed 10-part formula that the district wants to use in layoffs is
subjective and can lead to favoritism. "Given the current status of
evaluations in the district--abysmal and sometimes completely
fabricated--we find using them as the basis for job assignment
untenable," he said. "I recognize seniority is flawed, but it's
transparent. Whatever we transition to needs to be equally

For example, among the district's proposal for criteria on the
evaluations is "Contributing to school effectiveness through
collaboration with others." TEA members described that as the "not a
good building fit" clause.

Other sticking points are pay decreases and class size. Initially, the
district sought a two-student increase in class size, though they have
since withdrawn that proposal. But district officials refuse to budge
on the TEA's demand to lower class size by one student.

You can post a message of support to striking teachers at the We Teach
Tacoma Facebook page. For updates on the strike, visit the We Teach
Tacoma website.
Also shaping this struggle is Washington state's decision to cut its
funds targeted for teacher pay by 1.9 percent. However, individual
school districts retain the ability to choose how to impose that
reduction. For its part, Tacoma Pubic Schools (TPS) has proposed a
choice between taking away personal days or cutting the salary
schedule to achieve that reduction.

Neighboring districts have agreed with unions to implement furlough
days. Some districts even completely covered the deficit of state
money with their own reserve funds. But though TPS has the largest
reserves in the state--some $45 million--the district is refusing to
use that money to avoid pay cuts for teachers.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

AS SOON as the strike began, TPS was in court seeking an injunction to
force teachers back to work. On September 14, Pierce County Superior
Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff issued a temporary restraining order
forcing the two sides back to the bargaining table. According to
Reuters, the judge mandated teachers "to report to work and to
discharge their assigned employment responsibilities in accordance
with the school calendar and individual employment contracts."

While lawyers from their union were busy interpreting the language of
the restraining order, TEA members continued to walk the picket line
the afternoon of September 15 and the following morning before voting
to continue the strike.

As the Associated Press noted, while public employee strikes are not
protected in Washington, the state legislature has not explicitly
banned them. In court, TPS argued that "19 different judges in
Washington state have ruled teacher strikes illegal since 1976." The
union has countered that the district hasn't bargained in good faith,
and that "the court should not inject itself into the bargaining
process, while also suggesting the injunction only applies to union

TEA members on the picket lines were resolute. "If we have to do what
we have to do to get what's in the best interests of the kids, I'll do
what I have to do," said Deb Sanford, a 6th grade science teacher at
First Creek Middle School. "I'll take the consequences whatever they
may be. But I'm willing to do that or I wouldn't be here."

Another teacher, preferring to remain anonymous, went further: "They
used the injunction as a way to scare the teachers to see if we were
going to break. We're not breaking, because right is right and wrong
is wrong. Times are too hard. We shouldn't have to teach under those

For its part, the district has been intransigent from the start,
hiring an outside negotiator at the beginning of contract talks. It
has also used robo-calls to update teachers and family members on the
status of bargaining, but many teachers claim these robo-calls have
spread mistruths about the union.

Support from the community, students and parents was evident from
honks from passersby and supporters on the picket line. "The parents
of the students I work with are able to connect the dots and see how
this is an attack," said Gibbs-Bowling, the Lincoln High School
teacher. "I had a mother whose son Nick is in my largest class, over
thirty students, come walk the line with us. There were, throughout
the day, dozens of parents and students with us."

Commenting on the TEA website, WeTeachTacoma.org, teachers summed up
the importance of the strike. "We cannot be effective teachers if we
are in a state of constant anxiety about our job security," wrote
Barbara Vlcek.

One teacher from Wisconsin commented on the website about the
importance of the strike:

As you know, you're not fighting for only yourselves, but also the
kids in your classrooms. Your working conditions are their classroom
conditions, and if these sorts of school board policies and tactics
are carried out, the face of education is going to change quickly from
one of diverse experience and skills to one that's young,
inexperienced and quickly burned-out. That's not what I want my son to
experience in his school, and it's not what I want any of you to have
to see. Keep on fighting! This is important, and we're all in it

The strike took place after the opening of the school year because of
a TEA union bylaw that requires an astronomical 80 percent vote of
favor of strike--under this year, the initial strike vote failed by 28
votes. Consequently, Tacoma teachers began the school year without a

The district apparently believed that more teachers would be reluctant
to strike. However, teachers recognized the importance of defending
seniority, and many feel that the additional time taken to achieve the
80 percent margin was worth it, as it gave them additional solidarity.

TEA members will need to maintain that solidarity to continue to
pressure the district and defend their seniority. They deserve the
support of students, other teachers, union members and activists

More information about the Marxism mailing list