Friday, September 23, 2011

Tacoma Teachers Strike Ends—Teachers Win Status Quo!

Huck/Konopacki Labor Cartoons
Tacoma teachers voted with nearly 99% approval for the three-year contract negotiated by their union representatives, under the guidance of Washington’s governor Gregoire, according to the CS Monitor.

So what did the teachers win?

Class size will remain the same. This might be spun as a victory, as the district had wanted to increase class sizes. However, the union had wanted to reduce class size by one student, and even this would have left class sizes larger than most teachers would consider safe and ideal for effective learning.

Teacher pay will remain at current rates. However, teachers will lose one day of paid professional development. Again, this might be spun as a victory, as the district originally had wanted to cut several days off the school year and significantly reduce salaries and professional develop days. However, with state budget cuts, most unions have given up even asking for raises, assuming there is no chance of succeeding. Therefore, teachers and other workers get de facto pay cuts each year, as their salaries remain the same while inflation raises their living costs.

One of the most contentious sticking points was the district’s demand that teacher transfers be based on evaluations, rather than seniority. The teacher-transfer policy will remain intact for one year. During the 2012-13 school year, a committee made up of teachers and district officials will develop a new policy, with approval by a two-thirds vote of the committee.

An amnesty clause will protect teachers from any punishment for striking. This is probably the best part of the deal considering that a judge had ordered the teachers back to work and threatened legal consequences against the 1900 who continued to strike.

In summary, the Tacoma teachers succeeded in forcing their district to back off of some of their attacks, effectively maintaining the status quo for one more year, a status quo that does not include raises to keep up with the cost of living. Next year, seniority could go out the window. Class sizes could be increased in three years, when the contract ends.

On a positive note, the Tacoma teachers did stand up to a judge and a legal system that said they had no right to strike. They risked jail time fighting to maintain their working conditions. And it should certainly be seen as a good thing that they will not be fired or imprisoned for their efforts.

On the other hand, they did not ask for much in the first place. They put a lot on the line, risked a great deal, to simply keep things the same, a status quo that provided mediocre working conditions for teachers and mediocre learning conditions for their students. Rather than entering negotiations begging for a lame status quo, a much better tactic is to enter negotiations demanding everything one really wants, no matter how unlikely one thinks they are. Then, instead of giving away a little more each year and falling further and further behind, there is the possibility of actually gaining ground.  

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