TACOMA – A judge said Friday he will give more time to all parties involved in a teacher strike in Washington state’s third-largest school district to resolve the contract dispute.
They have until Sept. 27 to reach a deal and no fines would be issued yet, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff said during a hearing to determine if the teachers in Tacoma were obeying a court order to end their strike.
Teachers walked out Tuesday after working the first week and a half of school without a contract.
Chushcoff issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday, ordering the teachers back to work and both parties back to the negotiating table. But he expressed reluctance to go further with his orders on Friday, the News Tribune reported.
The majority of Tacoma’s 1,900 teachers defied that order Thursday and Friday and reported to picket lines instead of school. Some of the district’s 28,000 students have joined them on the picket lines. The teachers voted to strike Monday night after months of contract negotiations.
There will be no school on Monday, the district announced, as part of a statement from the superintendent.
Chushcoff did put the teachers on notice that they could be fined for violating his restraining order and said the sanctions could be retroactive, but he said he was hoping that won’t be necessary.
A 2006 state attorney general’s opinion said state and local public employees, including teachers, have no legally protected right to strike. But that opinion also noted state law lacks specific penalties for striking public employees.
The school district’s attorney, Shannon McMinimee, told Chushcoff that teachers were openly defying his order and deserved to be sanctioned.
“They are out of compliance with this court’s order. The teachers are striking. That’s a fact,” McMinimee said.
She suggested fining the Tacoma Education Association as an entity and its individual members to force their compliance.
The union’s attorney, Tyler Firkins, said that wouldn’t be fair. He argued ordering sanctions against union members without giving them a chance to defend themselves in court violated their rights to due process.
“We simply ask for a fair opportunity,” Firkins said.
McMinimee said the union was stalling. Giving them more time was akin to allowing them to “hold a gun to the district’s head” during contract negotiations, she said.
The judge said he would release documents detailing contract proposals to the public in an effort to dispel rhetoric about which side is being intransigent during bargaining.
“We’ll let the light of day disinfect all that,” Chushcoff said.
He also ordered the union to provide financial statements and bank records, which he would not release. Chushcoff did not say why he wanted to look at those records.