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Teachers Strike, Round Two

Teachers John and Kerry Guerini of Fayetteville, West Virginia, hold signs at a rally at the state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. Teachers across West Virginia will continue a walkout over pay and benefits for a fourth day. (AP Photo/John Raby)

Last year’s teacher strikes were incredibly inspiring, in part because they came out of the most conservative parts of the nation. And yesterday’s massacre of Oklahoma Republicans who refused to vote for the tax increases to pay teachers shows the real power of this movement, as decentralized and locally contextual as it presently is. Of course, what that very vote means is that way too many teachers are Republicans, but one step at a time.

Anyway, Round Two is about to open and it may start in a very different political climate than Oklahoma: Seattle.

It’s official: Teachers and school staff in Seattle voted to authorize a strike Tuesday evening. The strike could take effect if negotiations with Seattle Public Schools don’t result in a tentative contract by the first day of school, Sept. 5.

The vote followed perhaps the state’s first official strikes that disrupted the first day of school in two southwest Washington districts Tuesday; teachers in four additional Clark County districts will join the picket lines Wednesday. This year’s hectic negotiation season comes at the hands of a major shift in the state’s model of paying for public education.

In downtown Seattle, about 2,000 educators piled into Benaroya Hall for the vote, which took place during a general membership meeting of the Seattle Education Association (SEA), the union that represents roughly 6,000 Seattle school employees.

Negotiations over teacher pay, health benefits for some workers and efforts to increase racial equity in classrooms appeared to gain momentum earlier in August, but the union proposed the strike authorization vote after a deal was not reached by Aug. 25, SEA’s deadline for a tentative contract.

“They just ran out of time,” SEA President Phyllis Campano said early Tuesday. “There couldn’t be a disagreement because the conversation didn’t go far enough.”

Teachers in Seattle last went on strike in 2015. The five-day walkout ended in an all-night round of negotiations — that’s why the district and the union are taking a less-adversarial approach to bargaining this year. Instead of each party bringing its demands to the table for debate, the parties talk through their interests extensively and try to arrive at a deal together, said Shelly Hurley, a member of SEA’s bargaining team who also works as a teacher mentor here.

“At the beginning of the compensation conversation, both sides talked without any numbers being thrown around at all. It was just listening,” Hurley said. More recently, according to Hurley, the district has proposed different salary schedule models in response to some of the concerns voiced by SEA members, but hasn’t made a formal offer.

Hopefully, the Seattle teachers can get what they need without a strike, but mobilizing for action through the strike authorization shows they aren’t messing around. Expect to see a lot more of this coming up this school year. The teachers represent so much that has gone wrong in America–privatization and charter schools instead of belief and investment in public services, the raiding of funding by conservatives to give money to the rich, the failure of the nation to take poverty and racism seriously, the growing inequality that defines the nation–and at the same time, few professions have as much respect as teachers. They could play a critical role in the coming struggles.

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