Archive for the ‘Injunction’ Category

Bargaining Update For Saturday, Sept. 12

September 12, 2009

Should we stay or should we go?
That’s the question that each of us is asking ourselves as Monday’s deadline looms to return to class.
The district is counting on you to go across picket lines, to go against all your days on the line standing up for smaller classes, to go quietly back behind your classroom doors so they can continue to dominate and intimidate.
The district is consistent. From the first day of bargaining last April, district administrators have misread our resolve.
They didn’t believe we would rise up when they announced they were taking away seven days’ pay and linking our evaluations to WASL scores.
They predicted we wouldn’t have the unity to strike even when they told us budget cuts meant they wouldn’t deal with class sizes for years to come.
They suggested to local reporters that our picket lines would collapse a few days into the strike.
They thought we’d crumble in fear instead of storming the room to protest when Supt. Vargas announced he would haul his own teachers into court.
They thought they could manipulate the courts to end a strike that must instead be resolved at the bargaining table.
They tried to bully pregnant moms into believing they wouldn’t have insurance when they stepped inside the delivery room. But our members got on their phones and convinced Group Health officials to guarantee the same continuation of coverage for their members that already is provided during strikes under WEA’s Premera plans.
Even now, the district thinks the renewed threat of fines will cause us to forget why we launched this battle. They’ve sent e-mails gloating about how our picket lines and our bargaining power will crumble on Monday. They’ve posted reader boards announcing that schools will reopen Tuesday, apparently without teachers, given our vote making it clear we will return only when we have a ratified contract.
Have our members given up?
KEA had extended an offer to keep our office open today to answer questions from all members who were beginning to question their own resolve. By early afternoon, two members had come in.
The district has been slow to understand our power and our unity. But look at what’s already happened. The district tried to frame this as all about money. Parents get that this dispute is about class size and time with kids. The district tried to shut down our strike before our message could spread into our own community. Instead, our stand has now become a national news story. The headline in Friday’s New York Times: “Teacher Strike in Washington Focused on Class Size.” Becky Hanks tried to convince reporters that our proposal Thursday, which could have ended the strike immediately, cost $5 million more than what we said. But her message all but disappeared from the airwaves once KEA’s Bargaining Team made it clear that it was Hanks who was putting out the phony numbers.
Even without a settlement in hand, the district can no longer ignore our power. We have stood together and stood strong in the face of the most nasty threats, and smears, and insults, and intimidation our administrators can spew forth. We have focused the public conversation on class size and time with kids, and the community is on our side.
As the School Board tries to hide from us and the community, parents have become even more inflamed. A nascent network of online organizing has already generated hundreds upon hundreds of petition signatures to recall all five Kent School Board members, and the effort is not yet three days old. Parents are directly confronting board members in the community, asking why they won’t deal with these issues squarely at the bargaining table.
The tide is turning, and will continue to turn. What we win in this contract will become the foundation for future contracts. Districts that have pulled ahead of Kent did not do so in one bargaining season. They’ve made incremental gains year after year once their unity convinced their districts to listen to, and respect, the concerns they bring to the bargaining table.
Are we ready to give up?
That is a question each of us must answer ourselves Tuesday morning as we continue our quest for smaller classes, more time with students, and competitive compensation.
Attend our 6:30 Sunday night rally
KEA members and school supporters around the region are invited to a 6:30 p.m. rally at Town Square Plaza (also known as “Marble Park”) at Second Avenue and West Smith Street, across from the downtown library. It’s yet one more reminder we are not alone.
Bargaining Update
Teams for KEA and KSD returned to the bargaining table Saturday, and were back at the table again this morning. Talks are continuing with discussions on both sides. The district appears to be backing away from its earlier assertions that our proposal on Thursday cost $5 million more than KEA had announced. No new tentative agreements had been reached as of early Saturday afternoon.
What about the fines?
School districts historically have agreed to ask the courts to drop fines once classes resume because it’s important for operations to return to as normal as possible so that students’ education can get back on track. But a concern has arisen that Kent administrators like Chuck Lind and Larry Miner have made it clear that their priority is power, not student achievement, and they might be filled with such irrational venom that they would continue to try to smear Kent’s teachers no matter how much damage that causes within the community.
It’s a legitimate concern, so let’s assume the worst does happen:
The district can’t ignore parents forever, and the School Board can’t cancel all its public meetings indefinitely. They will have to defend spending tax money needed in the classroom to continue a petty and vindictive fight against their own teachers even after the strike is settled. We have a right to due process before fines can be assessed. Our union has vowed to step in with legal support to demand hearings, forcing the district to provide sworn testimony about which teachers crossed the lines, which days they crossed and numerous other details that would be critical for the assessment of fines. Independently of the district, the judge has the power to reduce or remove fines based on mitigating factors. Our union has prepared an answer to the injunction lawsuit that outlines in detail the district’s numerous violations of good-faith bargaining and its deliberate strategy to try to intimidate teachers into returning to school.
The court gave administrators a heavy club to use against its own teachers. But wielding that club may not be as easy as they imagined after we have our day in court.

District Can’t Settle, Won’t Settle

September 11, 2009

As many of you may know already, Thursday came with two major developments. KEA was ordered to pay fines of $1500 per day for each day since Tuesday, September 8th that teachers have defied the injunction order by continuing to strike. Each of KEA’s teachers individually were ordered to pay fines of $200 per day for each day they have not worked since Tuesday as well. When 74% of teachers voted on Monday, Sept 7th, to continue to strike rather than return to work, they knew that fines or penalties may be imposed, but believed that the issues they were fighting for were too important to give up on now. The small number of teachers who returned to work this week were overshadowed by the much larger and more united group of KEA members who stood fast and held the line. But there was a caveat to the judge’s order: she purposefully allowed more time for bargaining to continue and a settlement to be reached by making the order effective as of Monday, September 14th.

Something much more significant happened at the bargaining table Thursday. After a pause in bargaining since Tuesday morning, both sides returned to mediation on Thursday at 8 am. KEA’s Bargaining Team had spent the time since the last bargaining session coming up with what they described as their “Last, Best, and Final Offer” to the District in the hopes that a settlement would be reached before the fines would be handed down later in the day. The guiding question driving KEA’s Bargaining Team was simple: “How can we find a resolution without selling out the basic principles our members have been striking for?” The team worked together until 3:30 am Thursday morning crafting their proposal. Using District financial data, they formed a proposal that would come in at or below the costs of the KSD’s last proposal on Monday, September 7th. This, they believed, would finally move the District.

What they came up with was a proposal that will cost the District approximately $277,000 less than what the District’s last proposal would have cost! It would reduce class sizes with real caps across all grade levels, as well as caseload language for the many certificated specialists such as counselors, nurses, therapists, etc. Although these class size reductions are not enough to completely resolve the problem of Kent’s overcrowded classrooms, it would provide some relief and be a step in the right direction that could be built upon in the future. The proposal increased teacher time with students by limiting the amount and time of required meetings. It offered modest pay increases that still will have Kent at the bottom of the Puget Sound, but will at least offset the effect of inflation on teachers’ already low wages. A time limit of noon was placed on the proposal, in the hopes that the District would come to an agreement before the 1 pm court hearing over fines.  You can read the text of the KEA proposal here.   At first glance, the District openly acknowledged the KEA’s level of movement towards a settlement. Hopes were quickly dashed, however.

Did the District accept the offer, or counter with a similar proposal that was close enough to allow the parties to quickly hash out the details? OF COURSE NOT! KSD’s proposal offered higher class size caps at the Elementary School, with no caps at the secondary level. The District offered nothing for addressing certificated specialists’ caseloads. The District’s class size proposal still included provisions that would nullify the language in years when any employees were laid off (meaning that it automatically would negate class size relief for this school year). It demanded 8 hours of mandatory staff meetings per month. It offered even more Effective Education days (meaning more work for more pay), but at the cost of making those additional work days controlled by District administrators. In short, it was almost completely unchanged from the District’s last proposal of September 7th.

KSD’s excuse during the entire bargaining process for not accepting KEA’s proposals has been that they simply couldn’t afford what they repeatedly deemed as, “costly class size proposals.” They claimed that if they tapped the District’s mammoth reserve fund, the District would be financially ruined. KEA offered them a proposal that was $277,000 less than what they had previously been willing to pay, and yet they still rejected it. So is the issue really that KSD can’t afford KEA’s proposals? OBVIOUSLY NOT!

KSD claims that it is concerned about the best interest of the students. It used this as its main argument for filing the injunction to force teachers back to the classroom. When KEA offered real changes to the contract that would reduce class size and give teachers more time with students by limiting pointless meetings, they rejected these changes, but offered nothing for students in return. So is the issue really that KSD is working for the best interests of our students? OBVIOUSLY NOT!
These are the facts:
KSD ignored local lawmakers who demanded that the District stop misusing tax money to smear Kent teachers. KSD has cancelled a regularly scheduled School Board Meeting this week because, in the words of Jim Berrios, “There wasn’t enough to talk about.” KSD has repeatedly locked out groups of concerned parents who have come to the Administrative Building to demand answers from Superintendent Vargas and the School Board about why they won’t lower class sizes. KSD used a court injunction to, in the words of KSD’s attorney Chuck Lind, “coerce compliance,” by forcing teachers back to work. KSD has repeatedly stalled at the bargaining table– taking hours or even days to respond to KEA proposals. Their responses amount to only minor changes in wording, but nothing of substance. Superintendent Vargas and the School Board have been invited by KEA’s Bargaining Team to meet together to go over the cost data for both proposals together to find common ground, but they have refused.

Ultimately, we must come to only one conclusion. The District never intended to resolve any issues at the bargaining table. It has, instead, continually pursued a pattern of intimidation, manipulation, stalling, and legal maneuvering to maintain their power. That’s what this is all about. Not money, not kids, but POWER.

Now we wait for KSD to come to the bargaining table and bargain in good faith.

Kent Parents Coalition Emerges

September 10, 2009

A group of Kent parents have formed a coalition whose goal is to obtain the very best education available to our children and future KSD students.   These parents believe that the issues of overcrowded classrooms and excessive meetings detract from the teachers’ ability to help their children. 

Many parents in this coalition will be gathering with other community members today at noon at the Kent Regional Justice Center to lend their support to Kent teachers prior to the injunction hearing.  In addition, they are working to put more pressure on the Kent School District to focus on the bargaining table, rather than other distractions that will not bring an end to this strike.

If you are interested in joining this coalition or getting more information, you can use the following contact information to find out more. 

Email:  kentparentscoalition@gmail.com

Website/Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com and send Friend request to “KentParents.”   (You need a Facebook account first.)

More Games: KSD Tries To Coerce Teachers To Cross Picket Lines

September 9, 2009

In yet another example of KSD’s obstinance and blatant lack of good faith bargaining, Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Larry Miner sent a “KSD All Staff” email on Wednesday in the hopes of luring striking teachers and staff to cross the picket line.  The email announced that teachers and staff who decide to cross the picket line and return to work should fill out time sheets for extra pay.  Of course, Mr. Miner did not mention that any wages, salaries, and working condition changes that happen in the KSD must be bargained through the KEA, who has sole bargaining rights for teachers and certificated staff in Kent.  By sending this email, it seems obvious that Mr. Miner knowingly is attempting to coerce teachers to break union lines with pay that he cannot offer without bargaining through the union.  The District’s cries of poverty again must be called into question when they seemingly can always find money for things they want to finance, but are suddenly out of money for the proposals KEA has brought to the table.

Once again, we see another example of the District doing everything it can to “win”, except bargain.   If the District was to actually provide meaningful contract proposals that directly targeted the key issues that KEA members have identified as important to them, this strike would have been over a long time ago.  Instead, a clear and repeated pattern of not bargaining in good faith has emerged: 

  • In April, when bargaining started, remember that KSD offered punitive bargaining proposals such as denying KEA President Lisa Brackin-Johnson the right to accumulate sick leave as she would if she were a teacher in the classroom.  They also proposed not paying any of the teacher’s or principal’s Effective Education payments beyond the state salary model.  These were clearly designed to punish and intimidate KEA members to gratefully accept any crumbs that were to fall from the king’s table. 
  • This was followed by repeatedly ignoring written requests by KEA’s Bargaining Team for information that KSD is legally required to give in an allotted period of time. 
  • KSD’s obsitnancy continued with its “transparency” campaign of posting out of date contract proposals and budget information that they have yet to justify on their website in a deliberant and malignant attempt to sway public opinion. 
  • Let’s not forget the layoff of over 100 staff, followed quickly by the rehiring of nearly all of these staff, which can only be seen as a public relations ploy to spread fear that KSD, too is in a budget crisis– never mind that KSD’s Reserve Fund actually grew during this manufactured “budget crisis.” 
  • Add to this the hired negotiator to do the job Mr. Miner cannot seem to do, the law firm hired to defend the District since the District’s lawyer Mr. Lind seemingly cannot, and  hiring an outside consultant to confirm that KSD teachers are among the lowest paid in the state, and we now see a pattern. 
  • Finally, the creation of paperwork for an injunction against the current strike that is dated the same night as the strike vote, and filling this injunction in court on only the second day of school shows that KSD has never wanted to bargain when they believed they could bully to maintain their power. 

Do any of these steps seem like they will, in any way, help the students of Kent be more successful?  Will they, in any way, help Kent to attract and retain the best teachers, especially when competing with neighboring districts?

It seems obvious that KSD’s leadership has no desire to bargain a fair and adequate contract in a timely manner.  The School Board and Dr. Vargas repeatedly have been given the chance to step up and end this strike by helping to find a middle way, but have chosen to remain silent and hidden instead.  Again and again, KEA has made significant steps towards compromise, only to be met with sneers and counterproposals that are full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.  It is time for the community to step forward and demand that KSD stop the games, and get to the bargaining table.  Kent’s 1,800 teachers and certificated professionals have taken a stand after years of these types of bully tactics and intimidation from the KSD because they are tired of seeing their students fall through the cracks of a school system that has lost touch with its priorities.  We ask all of you to take a stand with us and put an end to this meaningless brinksmanship.

KSD School Board Mtg. Cancelled? What Are They Afraid Of?

September 9, 2009

The KSD School Board cancelled its regularly scheduled meeting for today, September 9th.  The next regularly scheduled School Board meeting is not scheduled until September 23rd.  This meeting is open  to the public for observation, and includes a time for comments and questions from the audience.  The School Board instead has been meeting behind closed doors in executive session the last few days to discuss bargaining.   You can view the School Board’s meeting schedule and agenda here

Once again, the School Board is avoiding input or pressure from parents, teachers, and community members that may help to settle this strike.  Whether you are for Kent teachers, you oppose them, or you are somewhere in the middle, you should be afforded the opportunity to address your elected officials to make your voice heard!  School Board President Jim Berrios was willing to meet a small group of concerned parents last Friday at his restaurant.  School Board member Chris Davies is also willing to meet with a small group of parents this evening.  They should be commended for doing so.  However, the fact that they are avoiding larger groups in situations where they do not have complete control should tell us something of their reluctance to accept criticism or to be held responsible for their decisions.   They twice locked out hundreds of parents who arrived last week to voice their support for teachers at a regularly scheduled meeting times.  Emails and letters to the School Board and Dr. Vargas have been so numerous that other administrative personnel have been responding to them.  And still the District stalls at the bargaining table! 

This is OUR district, not theirs– they work for us.  If they chose at any moment to become directly involved in bargaining, they could direct the District bargaining team to accept any KEA offers or make any counteroffers that would move both sides towards a settlement.   Their reluctance to get directly involved, combined with  their choice to focus the energies of the District towards legal action and bargaining with the public through their often inaccurate information or out-of-date postings of contract language should only be seen as a major reason why Kent is the only school district in Washington, and perhaps even the United States that is still on strike.  It is time for parents and community members to tell School Board President Jim Berrios and his colleagues to step out of the shadows and hear the voices of those they are accountable to!

KEA Teachers Vote To Remain On Strike

September 7, 2009

After a passionate and heartfelt debate, KEA teachers voted to continue their strike at Monday’s General Membership Meeting.   Previously, in response to last Thursday’s injunction order, Kent teachers had voted t0 delay action for four more days in the hopes that additional bargaining might be able to produce a tentative agreement.  Signs of hope seemed to appear Friday when Superintendent Vargas and School Board President Berrios met with a small contingent of Kent teachers and concerned parents.   However, tonight came with no tentative agreement reached yet.   As a result, the approximately 1400 KEA members in attendance voted 74% in favor to 26% against defying the injunction.  Teachers will, therefore, be back on the picket lines on Tuesday morning, and KEA’s Bargaining Team will return to the table to continue to work towards a resolution. 

At the start of tonight’s meeting, KEA’s Chief Negotiator Mike McNett outlined how the teams had been unable thus far to reach an agreement.  Some movement, he said, had been made on the issue of meetings, but the District had waited from Friday afternoon until Monday morning to respond to KEA’s latest class size proposals.  On this issue, it seems, the parties are still far apart.  McNett answered several questions by KEA members by providing examples of proposals that had been offered, and how KEA’s team had worked toward compromise in several areas.  Following the bargaining update, members of KEA’s Executive Board put forth a motion to continue the strike.  Many speakers came to the microphone to speak for or against the motion, or to ask questions of KEA President Lisa Brackin-Johnson, the Bargaining Team, or WEA’s legal team.  After an extended period of emotional and thoughtful discussion, a motion was made to suspend debate and vote on the motion, which was almost unanimously approved by standing vote.  Members then cast their votes via paper ballot.

Prior to the meeting, a large contingent of parents stood outside the meeting location at GRCC’s gymnasium with signs and cheers expressing support for KEA’s members and calling for a quick and fair resolution to the bargaining.

KEA members have been asked to again picket in front of their work locations on Tuesday morning for the first three hours of their contracted day.  Afterwards, picket captains will meet at the KEA office at noon to find out the schedule of planned events for the remainder of the week.   Strike signs were confirmed as being OK for the picket line.

Movement, But No Agreement

September 7, 2009

 

The following was sent to KEA members’ home emails today from Lisa Brackin-Johnson, KEA President:

Negotiators for KEA and the district were at the bargaining table with a second state mediator throughout the weekend, and back again this morning.

Much of the contract discussion since our most recent KEA member meeting on Thursday has focused on increasing time with students by putting limits on administrative and staff meetings. While we are closer on this issue, we do not yet have a tentative agreement on that topic. The district waited until noon today to respond to a class size proposal that KEA delivered nearly three days ago, at 2:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. At this hour, KEA’s team is examining the response for its strengths and weaknesses. There has been no further discussion about compensation issues, although that has not been the major focus of our negotiations.

In summary, we have seen only incremental progress at the bargaining table. At this moment it does not appear we will reach an overall tentative agreement in time for a contract vote at today’s meeting unless the district’s response time to our proposals improves dramatically in the next few hours.

KEA members will meet at 6 p.m. this evening, Monday Sept. 7, at the Green River Community College gym to decide our next steps. Please attend. Arrive early and carpool because parking is limited. 

The address is: 12401 SE 320th St., Auburn. Find online maps at:

http://www.greenriver.edu/about/campus/directions/

Words of Encouragement and Support

September 7, 2009

Below are some of the messages of support from across the country that have been sent to Kent teachers during this difficult time:

  • As a former UniServ Director in the Chinook council,   1971-1981, and the organizer of the first strike in Washington (Aberdeen) I applaud your members COURGE and RESOLVE  to stand up, demand  RESPECT and show your UNITY….   Hang together or you WILL hang separately.    Good Luck from your 3224 brothers and sisters in Central Adams UniServ a suburban local just north of Denver, Colorado
  • Please convey my support to your membership.  I am an officer of the Seneca Valley Education Association in Harmony, PA.  Having endured a 5 week strike 2 years ago, I understand the stress.  Thank your members for their solidarity, and know that we are with you all in spirit.  Hopefully your state Association and NEA is giving you everything they have got.
  • Please know that you have so many teachers and student families that support you and your decisions.  You are the leaders in the classroom, directly responsible for meeting the needs of every child. Thank you for being strong, courageous and doing the work that you do!  Arizona Teacher.  Region 1 AEA BOD
  • I am a UniServ Director here in Vermont, where my Area is all of Central Vermont.  We too have seen teacher strikes in our Area, usually over economic conditions of employment. When a school board will not negotiate over improved teacher time with students, however, they have reached an all-time low. You have my support – even from a few thousand miles away!!! Stay strong; know that you hold the higher ground morally, educationally and professionally.  I believe I speak for all my colleagues here in saying that we wish you every success in your endeavors.  Keep fighting the honorable fight for teachers and other workers. Now, more than ever, labor needs to stand strong.

Friday Update: Rays of Hope?

September 4, 2009

As you may have already read, Kent teachers were ordered back to work by a judge on Thursday.  The judge ruled that teachers must return to work on Tuesday, September 8th, with students returning the following day.  In response, KEA members met at Green River Community College on Thursday evening to explore their next steps.  Many members attending had expected to vote immediately to either ignore the judge’s injunction order and continue their strike, or to end the strike  and return to work in the hopes bargaining would continue.  However, KEA’s Bargaining Team recommended a third way:  delay any action until Monday to allow bargaining to take place, and see if an agreement might still be reached. 

The meeting Thursday night of about 1,300 KEA members began with an explanation by attorneys from the Washington Education Association, who explained the injunction process, and the consequences for teachers and union leadership should they choose not to comply with the injunction order and return to work.  The attorneys gave an overview of the process and answered questions from the audience.  Afterwards, KEA President Lisa Brackin-Johnson announced that the Bargaining Team had recommended holding off on further action.  At first, members were skeptical, calling instead for an immediate vote to defy the injunction.   Further discussion, however, caused the majority of  members to shift their thinking.  it was pointed out that with community support growing in recent days, more could be done both in the community and at bargaining to bring the District back to the table for a settlement.  In the end, President Brackin-Johnson took a vote for the resolution to hold off on action until Monday by having those that supported the motion stand.   The response was a nearly unanimous vote to delay action.  Members were told to return Monday, August 7th to the Green River Community College at 6 pm.  At that time, members will either vote to ratify a tentative agreement if one is reached through bargaining, or else they will vote on whether or not to comply with the injunction.

On Friday, both sides returned to the Bargaining Table in the morning to resume mediation.  A new mediator had been requested by KEA, which the KSD agreed to, in the hopes of breaking the impasse.  Both sides claimed new proposals would be brought to the table.  (No news yet on details of these proposals.)  While mediation continued, a huge crowd of teachers again gathered to line both sides of 256th St in front of the Kent School District Administrative Building.  Unlike last Friday’s demonstration, however, today they were joined by hundreds of parents, community members, and representatives from other unions such as the Boeing Machinists, Teamsters, and other teachers’ unions.  The united crowd held signs and waived at passing cars that honked and waved in support of teachers and a fair resolution of the bargain.   Besides the excitement of the gathering, KEA members and teachers used the event to circulate informational handouts that we hope will be further spread throughout the Kent community.  In an unwanted bit of excitement, an alleged drunk driver who had just allegedly committed a hit and run slammed into another car at the intersection of 256th and 124th.  KEA members witnessed the event and helped in aiding the injured and directing traffic until emergency services arrived.  No KEA members or their supporters were injured in the event.

Perhaps the biggest news on Friday, however, was that a small group of KEA members were able to make contact with School Board President Berrios and Superintendent Vargas Friday morning.  A small group of about 12 KEA members were sent to quietly and respectfully stand vigil without picket signs in front of Mr. Barrios’ house, in the hopes that they could encourage him to work to end the strike.  Mr. Berrios came out of his house to cordially greet the members, and invited them to join him at his restaurant, The Golden Steer, to talk about their issues.  The informal meeting lasted for several hours.  Superintendent Vargas joined the group for over an hour, as the members outlined their concerns, explained how class size impacted them, and talked about their hopes for a resolution.  Members in attendance reported that they felt that both Mr. Berrios and Mr. Vargas seemed earnest in their efforts to listen to and understand the members’ positions.  They also said that they directly asked Berrios and Vargas several times to become directly involved in the bargaining process.  As we hear more details of this meeting, we will be posting them.

So, with growing community support, a decision by KEA members to delay a decision on whether or not to defy the injunction, and a new mediator helping with bargaining, it seems that there is at least some home that a resolution might still be reached.  As more information becomes available, we will post it here and on the the www.kentschools.org webpage.

 

Injunction Ruling

September 4, 2009

Click the link below to read the judge’s injunction order.  KEA teachers voted unanimously on Thursday to delay any response to the injunction until Monday at 6 pm, in the hopes that renewed bargaining that begins today will result in a tentative agreement by Monday.  The ball is in the District’s court to end this.

http://www.kentschools.org/images/stories/decision.pdf