Paraeducators authorize strike in Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles Paraeducators Association members have voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike starting next Thursday in an effort to encourage the Port Angeles School District to give them higher wages.

“The strategy is to make them uncomfortable and get their attention,” Barbara Gapper, the lead negotiator for the paraeducators, said Wednesday.

“They have a responsibility to us.”

Gapper said the paraeducators voted 87-4 to authorize a strike during an emergency meeting Tuesday night.

The plan is to strike Thursday, Nov. 15 if the school district does not offer a “fair and equitable offer.”

She said 91 out of 110 paraeducators attended the meeting.

The Port Angeles Education Association (PAEA) will discuss Friday if teachers will support the strike, said Eric Pickens, the group’s president.

He said he will urge PAEA members to honor the paraeducators’ picket line by not crossing it to work.

“From my perspective as the president of our group … crossing a picket line would be the wrong thing to do,” he said. “It will be up to the membership, but as president that’s my view.”

The Port Angeles School District issued a statement Wednesday saying that the district is working on a contingency plan to keep schools open if the strike prevails.

“The district respects the work of our paraeducators and is committed to work diligently to resolve this issue in order to avoid a strike,” the statement says. “At this time the district has requested a state mediator to assist with the collective bargaining process.”

The statement says the district is offering a 3.5 percent increase while the association is requesting a 22 percent increase.

The district said paraeducators have seen an increase of 14.9 percent over the last three years.

Paraeducators are among the lowest paid classified staff in the district. Base pay for a paraeducator is $15.68 per hour.

Gapper said the school district has offered a 3.5 percent raise for paraeducators, but School Board members are expected to approve a 4.1 percent increase for other groups.

She said the paraeducators are still asking for a much higher amount in an effort to meet the district somewhere in the middle.

“We would be looking for something at least equitable to what the other classified groups got,” she said.

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Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].

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