Seattle: This Is Why We Have Unions, Folks!

It is a cornerstone of Washington state labor law that public school employees are allowed to bargain collectively with their employers, the state’s school districts.  Furthermore, school districts are specifically prohibited from even attempting to bargain directly with union members.

Did anyone (especially district staff lawyers) inform Seattle Public Schools chief Maria Goodloe-Johnson about this fact?

Last Friday, an undetermined number of SPS’ 3,300 certificated staff members received a letter with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson’s signature affixed to it that read in part:

“The purpose of this letter is to advise you of my determination, as Superintendent of Seattle School District, that there is probable cause to nonrenew your contract that was for 180 basic contract days plus two LID days, and to offer you an employment contract for the 2009-2010 school year for 180 basic contract days plus one LID day.”

The Seattle Education Association has denounced the Superintendent’s letter (she has since said that the letter had not been sent on Friday, but would be sent soon.  Never mind the inconvenient truth that many Seattle School District personnel had already received a copy).  SEA has further stated that it intends to file an unfair-labor practice complaint regarding what SEA considers to be Dr. Goodloe-Johnson’s attempt to circumvent the bargaining process and negotiate directly with SEA’s 3,300 members.

How this will play out should be a foregone conclusion, but it’s still early yet.

One thing that you as a KEA member might keep in mind is that collective bargaining supported by collaborative member action is the most effective tool that educators have for holding districts to account when they do things like break state labor law.  Also, when you have a union to represent your interests, you are not required to make the hard decision whether or not to take an individual personal contract offered to you on a take-it-or-leave-it basis by someone whose compensation package is likely three-to-four times yours.

The notion that teachers ought to be allowed to pool their bargaining resources in pursuit of the best possible working conditions and compensation package is a time-honored one and is black letter law in both the state and federal legal codes.  Any attempt on the part of either side to circumvent a process that is built on negotiation and founded in the spirit of compromise can do nothing but breed mutual distrust.

As a wise man once said, “That way lies madness.”


Brian Thornton

KEA Executive Board Member


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