A Thurston County Superior Court judge says the Tumwater teacher strike is illegal. However, Judge Chris Lanese will wait until at least next Wednesday to issue a ruling, saying he needs more proof the strike is causing “substantial and irreparable” harm before he were to order teachers back to work.
An attorney for the Tumwater School District argued Friday morning in court that the teacher strike, which has forced the cancellation of the first two days of school, is causing harm by preventing the district from fulfilling the state's paramount duty to educate children.
The attorney for the Tumwater Education Association said the strike may cause harm at some point, but it hasn't reached that point.
Judge Lanese is giving the district until a hearing on September 12 to prove evidence of harm. Superintendent John Bash said that will not be difficult.
“We’re getting complaints from parents, especially our disadvantaged families say I can’t afford daycare for my children,” said Bash.
The school district filed an injunction on Wednesday against the teachers union and Tumwater Education Association President Tim Voie. The district argues the strike is interfering with the rights of students to attend school. Wednesday was supposed to be the first day of school.
Voie acknowledged the strike is causing difficulties for the community, but he said the teachers aren’t the only ones to blame.
“There’s also been harm done to our students when they’re in classrooms with 36-38 kids or when they’re in unsafe situations in the classroom,” said Voie.
Voie said if the judge had ordered teachers back to school, he thinks the union members may have voted to defy the order.
"The district is using this injunction as a bullying tactic. I think they believe we'll back down. But the association isn't backing down. We're stepping up," Voie said.
The Tumwater School District is trying to "force" striking teachers back to work, according to a newsletter from the Education Association.
"They want to force us back to work without a contract," the newsletter states. "The District does not want to lower class sizes, offer student and staff safety, or provide us a competitive wage.
"They stalled until the zero hour through spring and summer. Now we know why."
The district claims the strike is illegal. That's true, according to a 2006 ruling from the Washington state attorney general, which states public employees have no legally-protected right to strike. Districts and parents groups can file an injunction to force teachers back to school. However, there are no penalties in the law to punish teachers or other public employees when they do choose to strike.
Tumwater teachers are among five unions on strike in Western Washington.
The ongoing teacher negotiations stem from the McCleary Decision, which allocated $2 billion for teacher salaries in the current budget.
Negotiations were scheduled to continue Friday evening and into the weekend.