A contract negotiation process between the Lake Washington Educational Support Personnel (LWESP) and the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) has apparently reached an amicable conclusion, after the two groups participated in meetings led by skilled facilitators John and Carol Glaser.
An April 16 joint press release stated that the LWSD and LWESP had come to an agreement on a new three-year contract that will be retroactive from August 2009, when the last contract expired, and which will run through Aug. 31, 2012. The tentative agreement was overwhelmingly ratified by LWESP members but will not become final until approved by the LWSD board of directors at its May 3 meeting.
The joint press release further stated that the LWSD and LWESP “completed the negotiations by engaging in a collaborative, interest-based bargaining process that was highly productive for both groups.”
NEW PAY LANES
According to LWSD communications director Kathryn Reith, the school district has looked at compensation for support personnel in similar districts such as Bellevue, Northshore and Issaquah in order to bring wages for LWESP members into a reasonable scale.
As reported in the Feb. 12 Redmond Reporter, members of the LWESP rallied outside the LWSD Resource Center on Feb. 6 to request “a living wage” and to protest against a so-called “death lane provision” in their employment contracts.
They referred to a system of LWSD “pay lanes” which seemed to be based less on a support employee’s level of experience than a quota system designed to help the LWSD anticipate its costs in a time of uncertain funding from the state.
LWESP members told the Redmond Reporter that employees would have to wait for someone to quit, retire from their jobs or die before another person could move from one pay lane to the next.
Reith confimed that under the old pay lane system, 25 percent of school support personnel fell into lane A and those generally had between 0-2 years of experience on the job. The B lane included another 25 percent of support employees with about 2-7 years on the job and the C lane accounted for 50 percent of the employees, most having 7-plus years on the job.
Because of that system, some longtime employees would go without raises while others who had been employed a shorter time would be eligible to move up a lane if a vacancy occurred in the lane above them.
Reith said the new pay lanes will be very specific. Employees with 0-5 years experience will be in lane A, those with 6-10 years experience will be in lane B and those with 11 or more years experience will be in lane C.
“This is more beneficial for employees, easier for them to anticipate when their pay will increase,” said Reith.
In the Feb. 12 edition of the Redmond Reporter, three LWESP members talked about their job duties and current hourly pay.
Erin Ashley, who had been secretary at the LWSD’s Renaissance School of Art and Reasoning for three years, reported that she has been paid $15.82 per hour for the duration.
Michael Ruiz, who had worked in the LWSD Support Service Center for 20 months, was earning $17.95 per hour.
Julie Wulf, office manager at Norman Rockwell Elementary School for 17 years, said that she was earning $20.80 per hour.
Under the new contract agreement, support employees will receive a one percent raise in the first year, the salary schedule will be restructured in year two and another one percent raise will be given in year three.
Because the contract is retroactive to August 2009, the portion of the first year’s one percent increase that is owed to employees from that time to the present will likely be given to them over the course of their June, July and August paychecks this summer, Reith said.
MAKING UP LOST TIME
The LWSD and LWESP have also worked out a mutually agreeable process to make up for lost work time on March 8, when a large number of LWESP members called in sick.
In a March 12 story in the Redmond Reporter, Reith said that the LWSD would individually investigate each case of a support employee who failed to report to work that day, to determine whether they had a valid reason to use sick leave.
At that time, Reith said that those who did not have a legitimate excuse for missing work would be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
In a phone interview on April 19, Reith said that LWESP members who called in sick on March 8 could either show documentation to support taking sick leave, or use a vacation day to make up their absence from work or come in to work on an extra day for which they had not been scheduled.
Prior to the announcement about the new three-year contract with the LWSD, support personnel were hoping to obtain at least a 10 percent wage increase to reflect the cost of living in this community and additional job duties that many support personnel have absorbed.
In a statement provided by LWESP spokesperson Sheila Nokes on April 20, the support personnel’s response to the new contract with the LWSD was as follows:
“As in any difficult negotiation, this tentative agreement is a compromise that tries to meet the needs of our members, while also acknowledging the fiscal requirements of the district. Our members understand they did not get everything they asked for, but we are pleased with the progress we made and are hopeful that we have forged a new working relationship with the district that will carry forward into the future.”