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Seattle teachers strike gains widespread support, as Chicago Teachers Union House of Delegates votes at its September 9 meeting to back the brothers and sisters in Seattle... Seattle union members, 5,000 strong, vote unanimously to strike!...

Seattle strikers open the Seattle Teachers Strike of 2015.Noting that Seattle teachers had come out in support of Chicago's teachers during the Chicago Teachers Strike of 2012, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis asked the union's 800-member House of Delegates to vote in support of a resolution backing the Seattle teachers in their strike. The vote was unanimous, measuring the support from the CTU's 27,000-member union.

SEATTLE STRIKE AS COVERED BY SOCIALIST WORKER (SEPTEMBER 9, 2015)...

Teachers draw the line for Seattle schools. Darrin Hoop reports from Seattle on the first day of a teachers' strike pitting a determined union against a school district demanding concessions and cutbacks.

September 9, 2015... Five thousand members of the Seattle Education Association (SEA) will be on the picket line on Wednesday morning [September 9, 2015], providing a modern-day lesson of the power of teachers' unions by striking against the Seattle Public Schools (SPS).

Last week, more than 2,000 SEA members, most of them proudly sporting their red union T-shirts, packed into Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle for a vote on whether to authorize a strike.

To supporters of the teachers who lined the way into the meeting, it was clear that the vote would be in favor of a walkout--the only question was the margin. Later, we learned that the teachers, instructional assistants, paraprofessionals, nurses, counselors, substitute teachers and office professionals covered by SEA contract--people who have dedicated their lives to working with Seattle's youth--unanimously roared "aye" in favor of the first open-ended teachers strike in Seattle in 30 years.

Roberta Lindeman, a veteran educator of more than 30 years, who recently retired from her full-time teaching job, but now works as a substitute, summarized the sentiment of many others when she explained:

Dramatic overhead shot of the red-shirted Seattle teachers and supporters marching through downtown Seattle as the Seattle Teachers Strike of 2015 opened.What this particular contract negotiation is about is getting the schools that our students, our children of Seattle, and our educators deserve. I think teachers and the members of the union have been more than willing to give in and give back [in past contracts], with excuse after excuse about not having enough money. We said, "Okay, we understand there's an economic crisis." But when we are looking at this city and all of the wealth that exists here, and the unfair tax system that exists throughout the state, it's really time for all of us to stand up and say, "Basta!"--to say "Enough!"

Because of the commitment of SEA members like Lindeman, the 97 schools serving 53,000 students in the biggest district in the state of Washington won't be open for the first day of classes--because the people who make Seattle's public schools work are standing up for themselves, their students and their community.

It's not as if these educators rushed into a hasty decision. Negotiations began back on May 20. The two sides have met more than 20 times since then. However, it's clear that the SPS officials are intent on operating on a business-as-usual model.

According to union activists in SEA's reform caucus, Social Equality Educators (SEE), the district initially rejected all of the union's proposals and waited until only recently to counter with their own proposals.

Stop blaming teachers! Start funding schools! became two of the main slogans of the Seattle Teachers Strike of 2015.Now, among other things, SPS is demanding that the union accept a 30-minute increase to the school day with no extra pay, continued use of standardized tests scores to evaluate teachers and a pay increase of 8.3 percent over the three-year life of a contract, despite a freeze in teachers' wages for the last six years, without even a cost-of-living adjustment.

By contrast, the SEA proposal addresses not only traditional bread-and-butter economic issues like salary increases, but also multiple social justice issues that aim to attack the racial equity gap--or, to put it more accurately, chasm--in Seattle public schools.

The union has already won a concession from school officials on an important demand that SEA adopted after it was raised by a parents' mobilization: guaranteed recess time at all elementary schools. Earlier this week, the union announced that SPS committed to 30 minutes of guaranteed recess.

For example, the union wants "race and equity teams" at every school in the district. Their job would be to identify structural inequities and examples of institutional racism--and to address them with specific recommendations.

Currently, SPS disciplines African American students at four times the rate of white students. In addition, the reality of de facto segregation in Seattle is reflected in the fact that schools on the Southeast side are comprised almost entirely of students of color. The three Southernmost high schools in Seattle--Rainier Beach, Franklin and Cleveland--are made up of 97 percent, 94 percent and 94 percent students of color, respectively, according to state statistics.

Matt Carter, a special education teacher and building rep at Franklin High School--as well as a SEE activist, member of SEA's board of directors and parent of a 3rd and 5th grader at Orca K-8--discussed the factors involved:

I've spent my entire 14 years in Seattle working in Southeast schools. When I look at the discipline numbers--the number of kids suspended and expelled--it's almost all African American young men. Then you look at the rates up north, and if there are some, it's the few kids of color up there. It's so egregious and so obvious.

We've asked for an equity team in every school. They told us it was a great idea, but they only want to do it in six schools out of 97 schools in the district. We absolutely said no. There are equity problems in every single school.

The union is also demanding hard caseload caps for Education Staff Associates (ESAs, or school counselors and psychologists). In some schools, counselors are responsible for literally hundreds of students by themselves--and once again, due to the institutional racism in Seattle schools, students of color are disproportionately affected.

At one point in negotiations, SPS proposed hiring seven new ESAs for the entire district! As a SEE flyer pointed out, this is a drop in the bucket compared to what's needed.

In addition, the union aims to reduce the use of standardized testing--and, in particular, to end the "Student Growth Rating" that ties tested subject teachers' evaluations to student test scores.

The union is proposing a joint committee of representatives from SEA and SPS that would accept or reject any standardized tests beyond the federally mandated ones. Currently, students that stay in Seattle Public Schools from Kindergarten through 12th grade will take some 60 standardized tests during their years in school.

The standardized tests also illustrate the racial equity gap in Seattle schools. SPS recently released preliminary data on the English Language Arts test for 10th graders. Garfield High School, with a score of 86 percent, was the only high school south of downtown to score above the SPS average of 79 percent. All of the other seven Southern high schools scored between 27 percent and 76 percent. By contrast, all five high schools north of downtown scored between 86 percent and 94 percent.

Jeff Treistman, the school librarian at Denny International Middle School for the last 10 years and a building rep for the last four years, knows firsthand the devastating effect these tests have on students. When asked about the most important contract issue for him, he immediately answered:

For me, it's over-testing. My library is closed up from April to the end of the school year as I watch class after class of kids coming in to test. I watch their body language. I've been observing this very closely for the last seven years. I'm telling you, this is crushing the spirit of the kids. It's ridiculous.

The reason [SPS doesn't] understand it is the people downtown don't see what we see. They can't see that week after week of this progression, it's kind of like a Kafkaesque situation.

Fully fund education is one slogan of the Seattle strike.SEA isn't just a union for teachers, counselors, and psychologists. It also represents office professionals (SAEOPS, the Seattle Association of Educational Office Professionals), and classified and clerical staff who help run the school, often behind the scenes.

In an interview, one teacher described how the main office secretary kept the high school operating smoothly--without her, the principal would be lost. The union is calling for the district to increase staff pay--and to hire more people to reduce the current workload.

While many union members won't cite pay increases as one of their top issues, there's no question that SEA members deserve every penny that they are demanding. By one measure, Seattle has the seventh-highest cost of living in the U.S.

SPS is proposing an 8.2 percent wage increase over the three-year life of the contract--along with an additional unpaid 30 minutes added to each school day. By contrast, the union wants a 6 percent wage increase in each year of the contract. Until this year, Seattle teachers hadn't received a cost-of-living increase in the previous six.

According to reports, SPS negotiators have agreed to the union's demand for increased pay for substitute teachers, though no details were available yet.

Jesse Hagopian, a Social Studies teacher at Garfield High School, a member of SEE and one of the leaders of the boycott of the MAP test at Garfield in 2013, commented on the breadth of demands his union brought to the bargaining table:

I've never seen our union put forward such an important set of demands to the school district. In the past, we've asked for so little, and we've gotten even less.

I think there's a new mood in our union and a new level of organization. I think the work that Social Equality Educators has been doing for years, raising social justice unionism and social movement unionism issues, has finally translated into the union listing a set of demands that not only will help transform the public schools to make them better able to serve the needs of our kids, but also to connect with the families and communities we serve and support them on the issues they care most about.

The strike in Seattle is only the latest in a growing list of struggles for the future of public education all over the U.S.

Teachers in Tacoma, Washington, struck for several weeks in 2011. Then the Chicago Teachers Union strike in 2012 demonstrated the power of a united teachers' strike in one of the country's biggest cities. The MAP test boycott at Garfield in 2013 sparked a national movement of parents, students and teachers organizing against standardized testing.

In 2012, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled in its McCleary decision that the legislature was insufficiently funding public schools across the state. When lawmakers failed to properly address this, the Supreme Court last September found the legislature in contempt of court for failing to comply with its ruling.

In November, Washington state voters passed a referendum calling for dramatic reductions in class sizes. And teachers' unions affiliated with the Washington Education Association staged a series of one-day strikes throughout the state in late April and into May of this year, demanding action on both the funding and class size issues.

These statewide struggles forced more money from the state legislature. So between additional state and levy funding, SPS has an extra $32 million to $40 million that it could spend to meet the SEA's demands.

Today's SEA strike is following on the heels of two other local teachers' strikes. On Monday, 90 teachers in the South Whidbey Education Association ratified a new contract, ending a five-day strike that shut down schools on Whidbey Island, on Puget Sound just north of Seattle.

Meanwhile, teachers in the Pasco Association of Educators stood up to a Franklin County judge's injunction to end their week-old strike in the south central town. At a meeting of the union on Monday night, almost 900 out of 1,100 members bravely voted to continue their walkout for a fair contract.

Back in Seattle, Ian Golash, a nine-year veteran Social Studies teacher at Chief Sealth International High School and activist in SEE, summed up what he sees as the importance of the SEA strike:

I feel like this is a flash point right now in the broader union struggle. This is part of a concerted effort to try to test the union, and then break the union.

We've been working for years to build up to this point. This is our time to push back and build the power of unions generally, and this union in particular. Seattle could be an example. We're following the example of Chicago in showing people how you fight back. For years, this union has been much more of a negotiating, concessionary union. Now we've managed to turn it a little bit toward power.

That contradiction between workers and employers is at the center of our society. We have to use that. This idea that you can collaborate with your employer and come to an agreement that's good for everybody is bullshit. We're starting to understand that. This is what shows i

SEATTLE TIMES COVERAGE AT THE END OF THE FIRST DAY...

Empty Classes, No Talks As Seattle Schools Stalemate Continues, Jessica Lee September 10, 2015 The Settle Times

Seattle teachers strike for first time in 30 years. The Seattle Teachers Association represents 5000 teachers and other employees. The strike is mainly focused on salaries and social justice issues.

As Seattle teachers prepared to walk the picket lines for a second day Thursday, district officials are saying they simply dont have enough money to pay educators as much as theyre asking.

And although the Seattle School Board has authorized Superintendent Larry Nyland to take legal action, the district has no immediate plans to seek a court order to try to force teachers and other school employees back to work. It is hoping, instead, for a swift resolution.

But while Seattle officials said they expected to resume negotiations Thursday, union President Jonathan Knapp said his group is not planning to resume talks until district leaders signal that they have some new ideas.

He said union leaders plan to meet with a mediator Thursday, and will determine their next steps after that.

The districts offer is very competitive, said Ballard High School Principal Keven Wynkoop, a member of the districts bargaining team, at an afternoon news conference. He said Seattle has been one of the top three highest-paying districts in the state, adding, We expect to stay in that ballpark.

The districts latest offer would raise teachers salaries by 2 percent this year, 3.2 percent next year and 4 percent in 2017-18. When a state-approved cost-of-living adjustment is included (3 percent this year and 1.8 percent the following year), teachers would receive a 14 percent pay bump over three years.

The Seattle Education Association is asking for a 5 percent raise this year and 5.5 percent next year. With the cost-of-living adjustment, the raise would total 15.3 percent over two years.

Throughout the district Wednesday, teachers walked the picket lines in front of their schools and said they had no plans to back down.

It is the first time in 30 years that Seattle teachers have gone on strike over contract issues. (Teachers have participated in one-day walkouts to protest state funding, including one this year.)

Engineering instructor Doug Hartley was among dozens of Cleveland High School employees Wednesday morning who cheered for honking cars and waved signs saying On Strike! at South Lucile Street and 15th Avenue South.

It doesnt seem like were getting much respect from the district. It isnt about the money or anything else; its respect, he said.

Hartley has been a Seattle Public Schools employee for more than two decades. And after years of settling for what he called subpar contracts, he said teachers arent going to roll over anymore.

Weve been putting up for so much for so long. At some point, its the tipping point, he said.

Despite strong emotions on the picket lines, district negotiator Jon Halfaker a school administrator and former principal of Washington Middle School said the negotiations have been relatively cordial.

We believe we have made strong gains in reaching agreement on all of the major issues that have been put to us so far, said Halfaker, adding, later, Its not as if were sitting there in an adversarial relationship.

He said the district was taken aback late Tuesday when union officials broke off negotiations and announced they were going on strike.

Seattles latest salary offer is in line with, or even more generous, than the size of raises in other districts where teachers have negotiated new contracts this year.

For example, Everett will raise salaries by 7.75 percent over the next three years a 2.25 raise this school year, a 2.5 percent raise the next year and 3 percent raise in 2017-18. When the states cost-of-living adjustment is included, teachers will get a pay increase of 12.55 percent.

In Spokane, teachers will receive a 7 percent raise this year, including the state cost-of-living increase. Some of that increase is in the form of benefits.

Shoreline teachers will get an especially generous increase of 17.1 to 20.1 percent over a three-year contract, but thats because the district was at the very bottom in terms of compensation when compared with its neighbors, said David Guthrie, president of the Shoreline Education Association.

Shoreline will give an 8.3 percent raise this year (not including the cost-of-living adjustment), a 3 percent raise next year and a raise of 1 to 4 percent in 2017-18.

Guthrie said the contract will help Shoreline teachers catch up. It didnt come easy, though, he said. There was a very real chance we could have been on the picket lines as well.

Some Seattle parents said they were disappointed that the district and union leaders didnt do a better job of signaling a strike was imminent.

Stephanie Jones, executive director of Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle, said the crisis strike situation came fast, leading to a sense of confusion among parents.

District and union leaders should have made it clear this summer that tensions were high enough to cause a walkout, she said.

If youre going to hold the community hostage in the effect of your impact, you need to include the community in your conversations, she said.

The two sides have been in contract talks for months. They reached agreement on a number of issues over the Labor Day weekend, including a guaranteed 30 minutes of recess for elementary students and increased pay for certified and classified substitute teachers.

The district has also scrapped a proposal to extend the teacher workday. But district officials think they can still add 20 minutes to the school day, allowing more time for physical education, arts and music.

This year, a beginning teacher in Seattle earned a base salary of $44,372. Teachers with a bachelors degree and eight years of experience received $59,444, and those with 15 years experience, a masters degree and 45 credits received $79,788.

Negotiations are under way for school secretaries and librarians and instructional assistants as well as teachers. Overall, the union represents about 5,000 school employees.

At Thurgood Marshall Elementary on Wednesday, about 35 teachers and other workers marched down Martin Luther King Jr. Way South with music blasting and drum beats echoing.

Samantha Egelhoff, a fifth-grade teacher, said she wishes the school year could have begun as scheduled.

We would rather be at work, she said. Its not fun; nobody wants to do this.

SEATTLE STRIKE COVERED BY COMMON DREAMS...

'Fighting for Incredible List of Educational Reforms,' Seattle Teachers Go on Historic Strike... Andres Germanos September 9, 2015 Common Dreams

The Tuesday [September 8, 2015] decision to strikemade with what the union describes as "an unprecedented, thunderous unanimous vote," closes schools on what would have been the first day of school for roughly 50,000 students. The problems the public school teachers say are driving the strike include those teachers across the nation have also cited, including an over-reliance on standardized testing and flawed methods for evaluating educators.

For the first time in 30 years, Seattle teachers are hitting the picket lines on Wednesday after the teachers union and the school board failed to negotiate a tentative agreement.

The Tuesday decision to strikemade with what the union describes as "an unprecedented, thunderous unanimous vote," closes schools on what would have been the first day of school for roughly 50,000 students.

The problems the public school teachers say are driving the strike include those teachers across the nation have also cited, including an over-reliance on standardized testing and flawed methods for evaluating educators. The Seattle Education Association (SEA) outlines the issues summer-long negotiations have failed to resolve:

-- Professional pay: We need to attract and keep caring, qualified educators in Seattle, which is one of the most expensive cities in the United States. We've gone six years with no state COLA and five years with no state increase in funding for educator health care.

-- Fair teacher and staff evaluations: Educators should be evaluated fairly and consistently, and the focus should be on providing the support all educators need to be successful.

-- Reasonable testing: Too much standardized testing is stealing time away from classroom learning.

-- Educator workload relief: Current workloads mean many students aren't getting the help they need.

-- Student equity around discipline and the opportunity gap: We need to focus on equity issues in every school, not just some.

The administration's proposal to make teachers work more for free: It is unrealistic to expect teachers to work more hours without additional pay, and the district administration has been unable to explain how their proposal would help students.

Seventh-grade language arts teacher Theo Moriarty told the Associated Press, "We didnt want to strike, and it seems to be the only way to have a dialogue with our senior administration."

"We all know its an inconvenience but ultimately its far better for the future of students and families to get what were asking for," he said.

As Seattle Public School teacher Jesse Hagopian told the Real News Network following the vote to go on strike,"The issues that we're taking up are much more than pay."

"Teachers and educational support staff deserve a living wage in a city where the costs are skyrocketing, where teachers can no longer afford to live in the city where they teach," he continued. "So we're definitely fighting for fair compensation. We're fighting for an incredible list of educational reforms that will truly improve the lives of children in Seattle."

Voicing her support for the striking teachers is Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant, who called out the the difference between how teachers have not received the favorable treatment given to corporations.

"The educators demands are completely reasonable. In the face of skyrocketing rents and increasing costs for basic needs, the teachers have sacrificed for six years with no pay raises from Olympia," Sawant said in a statement.

"For too long the legislature has ignored the needs of the children and bent over backwards to give corporations handout after handout. Boeing executives got a special session. Where is the special session for education? Teachers are faced with stagnating salaries, overcrowded classrooms, too many standardized tests, and inadequate resources. It's high time the legislature did their job, stop ignoring the mandate by voters to lower class sizes and raise teachers' pay. Fully fund education now!" she added.

The Socialist council member also called on the community to stand in support with the teachersa path some parents of Seattle public schools students have already taken.

In an op-ed in Seattle weekly The Stranger, parents Sarah Lang, Jana Robbins, and Naomi Wilson write that they "stand firmly with the teachers who are fighting to provide a high quality education for all our kids." They add that the school district "continue[s] to resist [SEA's] sensible proposals, just as they have resisted parent efforts to address these same problems."

As union activist Darrin Hoop also notes, "The strike in Seattle is only the latest in a growing list of struggles for the future of public education all over the U.S.."

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