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Seattle teachers vote to ratify new contract

By Clio Jensen

Educators on strike in Seattle.

Seattle, WA – Educators voted to ratify a tentative agreement with Seattle Public Schools (SPS) on September 19, after a powerful five-day strike. The strike mobilized 90% of union members, supported by parents and students, to picket lines and rallies at their schools. The schools were shut down for five days. The Seattle Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, known as SCORE, was one of the driving forces behind the strike and has grown in membership by 60% since the strike began.

Educators went on strike September 7 after the district tried to make cuts to special education and multilingual programs. These programs “desperately need more funding and resources, not less,” said Fidy Kuo, a multilingual educator at Franklin High School. 41% of students are Asian American, 27% African American, and 15% are Hispanic. Many students at Franklin are immigrants or the children of immigrants and non-native English speakers.

Union members on the picket lines also voiced concerns over unreasonable workloads, wages eaten up by inflation, and the measly eight sick days that teachers are allotted per year. The contract gains in these areas include an agreement that personal days will not be used for regularly shortening the workweek or extending breaks at work.

Caitlin Honig, a social studies teacher at Franklin High School, says she also went on strike for inspirational purposes, “Our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions. It is really important to model for our students that collective action works and that we have the power to create change.”

The strike ended after Seattle Education Association union leadership announced that a tentative agreement was reached late on September 12, and a vote to end the strike passed with 57% in favor. Controversially, this violated a vote that union members had on August 31 to not end the strike until members had ratified the contract. Union leaders overrode this vote based on consultation and notification of membership that they did not understand its implications. Association representatives were called to an in-person representative assembly that only 57 out of 107 school were able to attend.

A significant number of union members were confused, and questions were left unanswered. This led to impassioned calls from some rank-and-file teachers to vote no on the tentative agreement.

Ultimately, the representative assembly and the SEA board of directors recommended that the general membership pass the tentative agreements. The agreements contain some collective bargaining wins but fall short of what teachers went on strike over. Each tentative agreement passed with 66% to 82% of the vote.

On the heels of an important strike for Seattle teachers, SCORE is summing up the good and the bad of the strike.

“The last few weeks have been a rollercoaster within SEA,” said instructional assistant Jeff Paul. “For SCORE, despite the union leadership’s attempts to slander us, we are moving forward from this contract fight stronger than before. SCORE had dozens of educators join our ranks in the last few weeks, while hearing thousands of our members express frustration with our top-down, anti-democratic leadership. We believe our platform of building a democratic, rank and file driven union is more popular than ever after this, so we are excited to continue the work of democratizing the union. We can use our power to fight for the schools that our students and members truly deserve.”

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