Sequim teachers set deadline for strike

With a disagreement regarding their contracts unsettled, Sequim Sequim School District teachers are preparing for a strike.

On Sept. 13, members of the Sequim Education Association — the Sequim teachers’ union — voted in favor of authorizing its elected officers to call for a strike on Sept. 27 or a later date if an agreement is not met with Sequim School District before then.

The teachers’ union has about 180 members in the bargaining group and 145 were present at the Sept. 13 meeting at Sequim’s Faith Lutheran Church, Jon Eekhoff, a Sequim High School teacher and member, said.

“We overwhelmingly voted to allow the leadership to call for a strike,” Eekhoff said.

Members said there are a few mediation dates before the tentative strike date. Washington Education Association (WEA) UniServ representative Cristi McCorkle said this allows more time at the mediation table with the hopes a settlement will be reached with the district before then.

“By advising (members) to slow the date down, it will give us more opportunity to get a settlement before that,” McCorkle said.

“It gives us a couple of weeks to get our heads wrapped around it.”

Eekhoff said some of the issues members are advocating for with the district include class sizes, fair pay and more representation on instructional committees.

“We want our district to treat us fairly and we want to be treated equitably,” Eekhoff said.

“There’s nobody in our bargaining agreement that wants (a strike) to happen,” he added. “I’m a teacher; I would rather be in a classroom and I would rather be teaching kids.”

McCorkle said one of the outcomes that came from the membership meeting on Sept. 13 was members asking for a budget forum, “so the WEA (the state teachers’ union) and the district can put their budgets out there to provide transparency to the community,” she said.

McCorkle said she believes the teachers’ union and the district are not interpreting the budget in the same way.

“We’re really in two different places,” McCorkle said. “We’re interpreting the budget in very different ways.”

She said the discrepancy in interpreting the budget is not the only issue between teachers and the district, noting a lack of staff morale.

“As a union, we need happy members,” McCorkle said. “When staff morale is good, the kids are the ones that benefit, and this is a morale issue, too.”

She said the union has remained in mediation with the district since April. She noted that members voting on a strike is never the decision unions want to come to.

“Strikes are never a positive thing,” McCorkle said. “They are never where anyone wants to go.”

McCorkle said she believes that union members have been left out of the conversation when it comes to district decisions.

“The saddest part is that I think the missing voice in the planning and the vision for the district is the teachers,” she said. “How do you set priorities when your employee base voice isn’t in the room?”

Sequim schools superintendent Gary Neal said he is hoping an agreement can be made before teachers go on strike.

“I’m hoping we’re not going to get there,” Neal said.

“All efforts are going into getting this taken care of before then and I feel confident still both sides are working hard to do that so we can then get back to business teaching kids.”

As of Tuesday, Sept. 19, the district remains in mediation with the Sequim Education Association.

Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

Reach Erin Hawkins at ehawkins@sequimgazette.com.

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