The Snoqualmie Valley School District and its small secretaries union (SVASA) have been negotiating a new contract since last spring, spending approximately 75 hours at the bargaining table, but have reached a stalemate over contract duration – something that has led the district to request a mediator in an effort find a solution.
Snoqualmie Valley School District secretaries say they are ‘bamboozled’ by the school board’s authorization for mediation since both sides have agreed on nearly every issue on the bargaining table – except the contract’s duration. SVASA is looking for a two-year contract while the district wants three years.
“After being locked in to our previous four-year contract, which was extended for a fifth year, we simply want more flexibility this time around,” SVASA President Karen Seiser said. “Because there are new funds coming from the legislature and because we want to have the freedom to negotiate after two legislative budget cycles, we feel a two-year contract is what we need.”
According to a district announcement, its bargaining team requested a mediator at the November 27th bargaining session and will seek help from the state Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC).
The district said to date, “the SVASA and SVSD bargaining teams have over 20 Tentative Agreements in place, as a result of 17 bargaining sessions together. While significant progress has been made, there are few contract terms that remain unresolved. Many school districts across the state have faced challenges this year during collective bargaining — due to legislative changes in the state’s funding system for K-12 education, and the implications of those changes on district operations, compensation and staffing.”
In late October SVSD said it had offered secretaries an average 14% raise over three years. The union was requesting raises to what it called a living wage, or roughly $25/hour for the Snoqualmie Valley area. The average salary for a SVSD secretary last year was roughly $21/hour.
SVSD has since upped its offer. Its latest proposal is a three-year average 18% raise, with the majority of the increases coming in the first year. The district said the salary proposal is based on “comparative methodology” that it has used successfully with all other employee groups in recent years where the wages of four neighboring districts – Lake Washington, Riverview, Issaquah and Tahoma – are used to quantify competitive wages in similar positions.
You can see the district’s wage proposal compared to current wages HERE.
Seiser says since negotiations have taken so long, this time, her members feel a contract with a shorter duration will help rebuild trust that they’ve lost in this last go around. She said, “It seems odd that our school board members wouldn’t simply agree to the two-year contract rather than taking up a mediator’s time.”
The district said given that negotiations require significant time and resource investment, it feels it needs to secure a three-year contract, a duration period it noted is also similar to contract settlements in neighboring districts. A two-year secretary union contract would also have SVSD negotiating with all three of its unions simultaneously in the future, which it said limits it in “providing the requisite time that each negotiation deserves.”
Seiser said two legislative sessions could mean a change by the state in salary funding or levy money. SVASA wants the ability to negotiate sooner. She said they extended their last contract an additional year when approached by the district, which pushed that contract to five years. Seiser said union members potentially missed out on opportunities with that long contract.
This fall, union members have held multiple picketing sessions and spoke out at school board meetings in an effort to reach what they consider and fair and living wage contract. The teacher’s union has also been lending support to the secretaries.
Via announcement, the district said it “remains committed to employment agreements that are competitive and similar in duration with other school districts in our area, while being fiscally responsible to our community. We appreciate the time and energy that both bargaining teams have devoted to the negotiations process, and hope that the assistance of mediation will help reach a mutually agreeable solution soon.”
More negotiation sessions will depend on state mediator availability. Until a new contract deal is reached, SVASA’s current contract remains in place for the 2018-19 school year.