Members of the Seattle Education Association (SEA)—the union that represents Seattle’s teachers, nurses, librarians, instructional assistants, office professionals and educational support staff—voted Tuesday, September 6, to authorize a strike, which was triggered when the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) did not meet the just demands of the union. After SPS failed to even show up to the bargaining table on Friday and Saturday, about 95% of SEA members voted to authorize the strike, with some 75% of the members voting.
Wednesday, September 7th was supposed to have been the first day of school for 50,000 students who attend Seattle Public Schools—but the strike will close all of the schools until a contract is reached. The last time SEA went on strike was in 2015 when the union’s work stoppage won a visionary set of demands, including expanded racial equity teams, more recess time for students, an end to the use of standardized tests scores being used in teacher evaluations, and small wage increases.
Again today, a rank-and-file upsurge spurred the union to vote to strike for, among other issues, maintaining “staffing ratios for special education and multilingual learners and that the district seeks more staff input as it aims to provide services for those students in general education classrooms.” In addition, the union is demanding more counselors and nurses, and increasing the wages of classified staff—including instructional assistants—so that they can afford to live in Seattle, a city with one of the highest costs of living.
The Seattle Student Union—an organization of youth that formed last year around issues of COVID safety in SPS—released a statement saying, “SEA’s demands are the foundation of what is needed to ensure a strong district for years to come, and they ensure that every student and staff member has the support they need to succeed.” Educator Jamillah Bomani told the Seattle Times she was willing to do “whatever it takes” to secure adequate supports for students and educators. “We want to be here on Wednesday, we want to be ready,” she said. “But we want to make sure we are coming back to school with everything we need and everything our students need.”
Educators around the country are increasingly showing that they are ready to strike for the schools their students deserve after one of the hardest school years on record that saw schools trying to cope with a ranging pandemic, attacks on antiracist teaching, gun violence, and the ongoing issues of underfunding and the school-to-prison-pipeline. Educators just south of Seattle in Kent, Washington, are also on strike for decent pay and more manageable caseloads for special education students and English language learners. In Columbus, Ohio, educators went on strike to demand, among other things, functioning air conditioning. In Philadelphia, bus drivers voted to strike for better wages and training. In Philadelphia, school bus drivers and maintenance workers struck over issues of wages and training.
The Seattle Education Association put together the below document to outline the major points of contention that remain between the union and the school district. The issues that Seattle educators are striking over are very clear and everyone who believes in labor solidarity and supporting more vulnerable student populations should sign the petition in support of the strike. As well, you can email the Seattle School District with this form to let them know they should agree to the unions demands.
With the solidarity of parents, students, and community members, the educators will win this strike and get us closer to the schools Seattle deserves.
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Join a picket in support of your area teachers! I was at Orca K-8 on Wednesday, and will be back there tomorrow.