PORT ANGELES — Students, educators, staff and administrators arrived Thursday for the first day of school, but it might end up being a very short return if the Port Angeles Education Association and the Port Angeles School District cannot come to a tentative agreement about a new contract in the next few days.
After failing to reach a deal with the district late Wednesday, Port Angeles Education Association (PAEA) President John Henry notified Superintendent Marty Brewer that the union was calling a strike to start Tuesday, the day after Labor Day, if an agreement can’t be reached.
The district will close the schools if the union goes through with its strike, said district communications spokesperson Carmen Geyer.
“I never imagined back in February when we were prepared to bargain with the district that we would end up in such a challenging position,” said Henry in a PAEA press release.
“However, our union is unwilling to accept a contract that does not meet the needs of our students and staff.”
The PAEA contract — which covers teachers, counselors, nurses, occupational therapists and psychologists — expired Wednesday. The membership had voted Monday to authorize a strike if an agreement could not be reached with the district.
Announcing the strike for Tuesday, the day after a holiday, meant PAEA members would work Thursday and today without a contract.
“We share a hope with the union to reach an agreement before the union’s strike date of September 6th,” said Geyer in an emailed statement.
The PAEA and district bargaining teams returned to the negotiating table at 1 p.m. Thursday, took a break and then planned to reconvene at 6 p.m.
The union continues to press for smaller class sizes and more designated and compensated class time, in addition to higher pay.
The Port Angeles Paraeducator Association (PAPEA) said it would honor the PAEA walkout.
“We stand by our teachers always,” said Rebecca Winters, Port Angeles Paraeducator Association president, in a text after the strike was called.
Adam Purcell, president of the Port Angeles Association of Educational Office Professionals, said in a statement, “The PAEOP supports the right of District [sic] employees to bargain for a fair contract. No decision regarding a strike has been made by our membership at this time.”
This is a change from a previous statement from PAEOP before the strike was called in which it said it would honor a Port Angeles Education Association strike and “support Port Angeles educators no matter what happens.”
The Port Angeles Paraeducators Association and the Port Angeles Association of Educational Office Professionals are also engaged in contract negotiations with the school district. The PAEOP met for a bargaining session Thursday.
The PAPEA is negotiating a change in its contract that expires in Aug. 31, 2023, because it wants to take advantage of a state-funded 5.5 percent cost of living adjustment for K-12 and higher education employees for the 2022-2023 school year. The allotment is not automatic; individual bargaining units must negotiate for it.
Winters said district paraeducators needed the cost of living adjustment. Their starting wage of $20 an hour is not enough to survive on after taxes and benefits are taken out, she said, and they work an average just six to 6 1/2 hours a day and only during the school year.
“The job we do matters,” Winters said. “Most of us are able to do this job because we are married or have a second job or a significant other or a roommate to help with the cost of living.”