Spokane Public Schools employees on Friday voted to strike just four days after school starts next week.
But the Spokane Education Association, which represents the workers, has not abandoned negotiations.
The association met Friday evening. More than 90 percent of those present voted to strike if a deal was not reached by Friday. School starts on Monday, the same day the association’s contract expires.
The vote was a significant change in tone from where the negotiations appeared to be Thursday when both sides indicated that they were moving closer to an agreement.
The vote was the second time this year the association approved a strike. In May, Spokane school workers voted to strike for one day to protest state funding for schools, which remains far below the level demanded by the state Supreme Court.
The union will begin meeting with the mediator today in a continuing effort to reach a contract agreement.
Union President Jenny Rose said nearly 1,000 attended the meeting Friday, but as the evening wore on many left. Of the 565 remaining at the time of the vote, 513 voted to go out on strike beginning at 7 a.m. Friday. The association represents teachers, librarians, counselors, nurses, custodians and other district workers.
Rose indicated previously that salaries are the main sticking point in the negotiations.
“We spent two hours with members coming to the mike sharing their personal stories,” Rose said.
Those who addressed the crowd spoke of not making enough money to buy food and not having enough to pay rent once health insurance was paid for, she said.
“We have gotten further and further behind because we have been without a COLA (cost-of-living increase) for six years,” Rose said. “They’re just tired. A lot of it is feeling disrespected. It’s hard to work for an employer like that.”
School district spokesman Kevin Morrison said the district is eager to have each of the seven groups represented by the association see the details of the seven contracts that have been proposed.
“We’ll be doing that over the weekend,” he said. “We’re looking forward to mediation.”
The mediation is nonbinding, but Morrison said he’s hopeful that a contract agreement can be reached next week.
“We want an open dialogue,” he said. “We want clear communication.”
Rose said she also hopes that the two sides can come to an agreement.
“Hopefully we’ll have a fair contract and there will be no need to strike on Friday,” she said.
Besides this year’s one-day walkout, employees of the district last went out on strike in 1979, Rose said.
School board member Deana Brower declined to comment on the vote. Attempts made to reach other board members were unsuccessful.
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