Seattle school bosses force 6,000 teachers, staff to strike
Seattle Education Association members, forced to strike, sit-down in front of Lafayette Elementary School. Key issues are high teacher-student ratios, low pay in a high-cost city and too few nurses and counselors. | Seattle Education Association

SEATTLE —School system stubbornness and refusal to discuss key issues such as too-large classes, too few counselors and school nurses and too-low pay forced 6,000 Seattle teachers and staffers to strike on September 9.

In being forced to take a hike, the workers, members of the Seattle Education Association, joined colleagues elsewhere in Washington state who also had to stand up to their bosses, reported The Stand, the news site of the Washington State Labor Council.

Eatonville Education Association teachers voted to authorize a strike starting September 7, the first day of classes. Ridgefield Education Association teachers and staff rallied on September 6 for a fair contract for their students and themselves.

And the 4,000 teachers in the greater Kent Education Association were forced to walk from August 25-September 8. That affected 24,000 students. Their ratified contract that day contained a 7% wage hike for this school year.

“The union’s primary goals are better pay, more mental health services for students and smaller class sizes and caseloads,” The Stand reported about the issues in Kent. “We’re trying to figure out how to help the district understand that our proposals are about making schools better for our students,” said KEA. That sounds like what Seattle teachers and staff want, too.

Pay is a particular problem. SEA says many teachers, not to mention support staffers, can’t afford to live in the high-cost city on what the Seattle Public Schools pays them. In a fact sheet comparing the two sides’ offers, SEA sought a “set dollar amount” hourly raise beyond the Washington state-funded yearly 5.5% cost of living hike for the proposed three-year pact.

By contrast, the school system offers “significantly smaller percentage-based raises” and a one-time bonus. The district’s submission had no numbers. But pay is not the only issue.

“Student needs are more acute than ever and educators know what it takes to support them. That’s why it’s critical that SPS (Seattle Public Schools) honor SEA educators’ expertise now–before time runs out–and agree to a contract that provides students with the fully funded resources and supports they need to thrive,” said a petition it wants supporters to sign.

“SPS needs more Multilingual and Special Education supports, workload and caseload relief, and higher wages particularly for the lowest paid staff.” And the union seeks class-size caps for non-core courses in secondary schools. The school district has no proposal on that.

The two sides are also far apart on workplace safety. “In the absence of a Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying policy for staff,” the new contract would “create a pathway rooted in restorative justice for staff to resolve workplace issues that are not contract violations, but are personnel-related.” The school system bosses reject that restorative justice idea.

“Please direct the SPS bargaining team to take seriously the words of SEA educators and find agreement with SEA now. Our students can’t wait!” the union petition concludes. It’s at


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.