Pickets in support of paraeducators in the Port Angeles School District march along West Eighth Street in front of the district offices at Lincoln Center on Wednesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Pickets in support of paraeducators in the Port Angeles School District march along West Eighth Street in front of the district offices at Lincoln Center on Wednesday. (Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News)

Strike enters Day 4

Paraeducators, district continue to bargain

PORT ANGELES — Members of the Port Angeles Paraeducator Association will return to the picket line for a fourth day Thursday as they continue their strike for a fair contract that began Monday.

The Port Angeles School District in an email to families sent Wednesday evening said all schools in the district would be closed Thursday.

Paraeducators said they will accept nothing less than a 3.7 percent wage increase, the same demand they have made since they started bargaining with the school district last year. Although they have stepped away from some of their other demands, paraeducators say they will continue to fight for what they say the state has funded and they have earned.

“We have literally given up everything except the 3.7 percent,” said Rebecca Winters, president of the PAPEA and a member of its bargaining team. “We will never back down.”

According to the email signed by Superintendent Marty Brewer, the district had made an offer to the paraeducators of “approximately $225,000 in salary and benefit increases for the 2023-24 and 2024-25 school years. The multiyear PASD offer utilizes all of the state funding provided to PASD for the purpose of paraeducator salary increases. The state of Washington has only provided approximately 10% of the funding necessary for the salary increase requested by PAPEA.”

The strike has delayed the return to classes after the weeklong spring break and will extend the last day of school to at least June 20. High school graduation will not be rescheduled.

Information about the school closures, updates on the strike, student meals and child care can be found at www.portangelesschools.org/labor.

The school district filed a temporary restraining order and injunction on Tuesday with Clallam County Superior Court. The purpose, Brewer said, was to get the 130 paraeducators back to work while continuing to bargain and lose no more school days.

“Our No. 1 goal is getting students back into the classroom as soon as possible,” he said. “We know that extended school closures have significant impact on students.”

Members of the PAPEA bargaining team said they were stunned when they learned about the injunction. It was hard not to take it personally, said Winters, who was named in the order along with PAPEA treasurer Janet Vaughan.

“But we have received so much support from the community, saying ‘Do not give up,’” Winters said.

Brewer said the school district will continue to bargain in good faith with the PAPEA and is optimistic the two sides can reach an agreement. Keeping in mind the long view is important, he said.

“My responsibility is not only planning for sustaining the budget this year, but also next year and the next five years,” Brewer said. “Maybe you can afford it this year, but can you sustain that moving forward without continued reduction in force? That’s an important piece.”

Washington public employment relations law does not protect striking public employees like teachers and paraeducators, said Elizabeth Ford, an assistant professor at Seattle University’s School of Law. There is also no real mechanism in the law to punish those who do walk off the job, however.

Injunctions have become a way school districts in the state can gain leverage in strikes and create disincentives for doing so.

“Teachers could go out on strike and the employer could technically fire all of them and there would be no recourse, but a district doesn’t want to do that because teachers are hard to replace,” Ford said. “That’s just not a practical solution.

“Beginning, maybe 10 years ago, a few districts started experimenting with this idea of an injunction. The idea was to go into court and to get a judge to declare that the strike was unlawful and to impose penalties on the union or on individual striking workers.”

Singling out individuals can also put pressure on striking workers to settle, Ford said. But teachers are not without power, either. The longer they hold out, the more pressure there is on the school district from families and the community to settle, Ford said.

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached by email at paula.hunt@peninsuladailynews.com.

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