Rank-and-file members of the Seattle teachers union formally ended their strike against the state’s largest school district, voting Sunday evening to ratify a proposed three-year contract.
The vote brings to an end the first teachers strike in Seattle since 1985, which canceled six days of classes for the district’s 53,000 students and sent parents into a frenzied, week-long scramble for childcare.
Bargaining teams for both sides reached a tentative agreement on a new contract last Tuesday after all-night negotiations. The Seattle Education Association's representative assembly then voted to suspend their strike pending the results of an all-union vote, which allowed students to return to classes last Thursday.
Union leaders have said the new contract ushers in a “new era” in which public school employees can use contract talks to push for systemic changes beyond the “traditional” fodder of pay increases and benefits packages.
For instance, the deal includes a guarantee of 30 minutes of recess time for all elementary students, an issue parents had raised before union negotiators brought it to the table. The new contract also nixes the Seattle Student Growth Rating, a move the union says de-couples standardized test scores from teachers’ evaluation results.
The contract spells out salary increases closer to those the district first proposed: a 3 percent raise in the first year, 2 percent in the second year and 4.5 percent in the third year. (Union negotiators had recently sought a two-year deal with raises of 4.5 and 5 percent.)
The agreement also includes a district plan to lengthen the school day by 20 minutes beginning in 2017, achieving this by converting some of teachers’ before- and after-school prep time into more classroom time.
Lengthening the school day has been an unpopular proposal on the picket lines, though union leaders have sought to reassure members the district will compensate teachers for the additional work through pay increases and additional collaboration time.
Other portions of the new deal remain frustrating to some union members. For example, in middle- and high schools, the contract also would have raised student-to-teacher ratios in the special education program called Access — the service model in which students with “intensive academic or functional needs” spend most of their time in general education classrooms.
Members of the union, which represents more than 5,000 teachers, counselors, therapists, paraprofessionals, office workers and other school employees, met Sunday afternoon at Benaroya Hall to debate and vote on the new contract.