LWESP authorized a strike for a fair contract with competitive and equitable pay Tuesday, Jan. 7. Photo courtesy of Lake Washington Education Support Professionals Facebook page

LWESP authorized a strike for a fair contract with competitive and equitable pay Tuesday, Jan. 7. Photo courtesy of Lake Washington Education Support Professionals Facebook page

Lake Washington School District office professionals authorize strike

After months of negotiations, LWESP authorized a strike Jan. 7; District says LWESP can’t legally strike.

Office professionals who work in the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) voted unanimously to authorize a strike Tuesday night at a general membership meeting held at Redmond High School.

Members of the Lake Washington Education Support Professionals (LWESP) union voted to authorize the union’s executive board to call a strike “in our fight for competitive pay and a fair contract,” according to a release. “The timing of the strike will be determined by the executive board in consultation with the LWESP bargaining team.”

The union represents about 300 LWSD office staff members, which include office managers, clerical assistants, receptionists, health room secretaries and accounting technicians.

School secretaries and other office professionals in LWSD have been working without a contract since Aug. 31. Contract negotiations began in May and the district requested mediation services from the Public Employees Relation Commission (PERC) in August. The school district and LWESP have participated in eight mediated sessions since August and have continued to exchange proposals, according to the district.

At Monday’s bargaining meeting, the district proposal included an average salary increase of 12.8 percent over three years. The union provided a counter proposal that included an average salary increase of 28.1 percent over three years.

Bargaining ended Monday, Jan. 6, without a settlement.

According to LWESP’s press release, this school year was the union’s first chance to negotiate competitive pay since the state Legislature approved historic increases in state funding specifically for educator compensation.

“Despite months of negotiations, protests and picketing, the Lake Washington School Board and superintendent have refused to negotiate a fair contract deal for office professionals,” the release stated.

LWESP union president Carolina Borrego said the office professionals are tired of being disrespected and undervalued by the superintendent and school board.

“We work hard. We are professionals,” Borrego said in a release. “We are tired of being disrespected and undervalued by our superintendent and school board. [Tuesday night’s] unanimous strike vote shows we aren’t scared of taking a stand for ourselves and our students. Enough is enough.”

According to the school district, classified employees are not legally permitted to strike.

“RCW41.56.120 states that classified employees, such as the LWESP, are not legally permitted to strike,” according to a press release from the district. “Under RCW 41.56.123, the current contract extends through Aug. 31, 2020, or until a new contract is established.”

The district has announced it continues to approach each bargaining session in good faith and will continue to consider all reasonable proposals.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article had incorrectly labeled RCWs.

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