Teachers strike in Washington district

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Washington Education Association union organizer Terry Fitzpatrick assembles a picket sign outside Wilson High School on Tuesday in Tacoma, Washington. School was closed for 28,000 students Tuesday after teachers in Washington's third-largest school district voted to strike on Monday. (Ted S. Warren | The Associated Press)

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

TACOMA, Wash. — Thousands of students in Washington state’s third-largest school district will be spending a second day out of class as school officials seek a court order to force hundreds of striking teachers back to work.

A Superior Court hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning on the Tacoma School District’s request for an injunction to order nearly 1,900 teachers back to work. The district’s lawyers contend public employees cannot legally strike under state law. Tacoma Education Association spokesman Rich Wood says union lawyers will be ready with a response.

Teachers hit the picket lines Tuesday after voting overwhelmingly Monday night to strike over issues that include teacher pay, class size and the way the district’s teachers are transferred and reassigned. Tacoma teachers had been working without a contract since school started Sept. 1. The strike is keeping 28,000 students out of class.

Union officials said striking teachers began arriving at Lincoln High School at 6 a.m. Tuesday, and the plan was to have teachers at the city’s five major high schools demonstrating all day.

“It’s my 39th year of teaching. I’ve never struck before,” fourth grade teacher Robert Brown, 60, said shortly after helping assemble signs at Wilson High School. “I’d rather be in school. The principal at my school is just wonderful. My relationship with him is great. It’s very negative from the central office.”

Eighty-seven percent of the Tacoma Education Association’s total membership voted to walk out after weekend contract negotiations failed to result in an agreement, Wood said.

“I hope the district administration is taking less time on legal action and reflecting [on] why their teachers are so upset they would leave the students they love,” said Andy Coons, Tacoma Education Association president.

A strike vote at the end of August failed by about 28 votes. Union bylaws require approval by 80 percent of the nearly 1,900 members to authorize a strike.

A 2006 state attorney general’s opinion said state and local public employees have no legally protected right to strike.

During several past teacher strikes, Washington school districts have gone to court, and judges have ordered teachers back to work.