Teachers return to work after agreeing to new contract

Teachers throughout the Puyallup School District picketed for three days to protest the uncompetitive wages they had been offered by the Puyallup School District, and ended up victorious.


Photo by Angelique Nuxoll

New art teacher PJ Gorski pickets in front of the school on Sept. 5.

On Saturday, Sept. 8, the Puyallup Education Association and the Puyallup School District reached a tentative agreement that provided competitive wages for the teachers. That night, the PEA met at Rogers to ratify a three-year contract that would give teachers a 10 percent raise, officially ending the strike that had lasted for three erratic days.

Ninety-seven percent of the PEA voted to ratify the contract, which provided a 3.4 percent increase from the last offer by the school district.

English teacher Bonnie Shelley had led the strike at Rogers, expressing that, although passionate about their cause, the teachers wanted a regular school year as much as the students.

“All of us really do want to be in our classrooms,” Shelley said in the midst of picketing last week. “We would way rather be teaching right now than doing this, even though the weather’s beautiful. You know, that’s what we do, that’s our job. We’re teachers, we want to be teaching, we want to be in school.”

In an interview with The News Tribune, superintendent Tim Yeomans said, “The negotiations expanded beyond what is immediately sustainable, which means the board had to use some funds from the fund balance.”

The cause of the striking came from the McCleary Decision, a ruling from the state Supreme Court in 2012, that declared that the state was not properly funding public education.

In June 2018, the state Supreme Court ruled that Washington had satisfied the McCleary Decision’s conditions, which prompted extra funding for public school districts, including $2 billion to go towards teacher’s salaries.

Negotiating began across the state on how to distribute the $2 billion, prompting the Puyallup Education Association membership to order a strike when the school district attempted to negotiate a deal that they felt did not provide a competitive wage increase for teachers.

All of us really do want to be in our classrooms. We would way rather be teaching right now than doing this.”

— Bonnie Shelley

The striking had begun on Wednesday, Sept. 5, when teachers picketed in front of their respective schools in order to protest the salaries they had been offered by the school district.

At that time, Shelley echoed the sentiment of the Puyallup Education Association, saying, “My ideal outcome would be for everyone to come to an agreement where we all agree on a salary increase that is not only sustainable for our district but is also really good for teachers to help us pay our bills and pay off our student loans.”

For 14 hours last week, teachers walked up and down 128th Street East, waving signs and decked out in red shirts. Cars drove by, with many passengers waving and drivers honking their horns; some expressed their disapproval of the strike.

The occasional student would drive by, shouting their support for their favorite teachers. Some even joined in on the picketing.

“It will impact students in the fact that we’re not starting school on time. We will have to make up these days, unfortunately.” Shelley said. The strike had been the focal point of student conversation since last Wednesday, with many students supporting the idea of teachers striking for increased pay.

Of course, unanswered questions still plague the student body. When will school get out? Will graduation day be moved? How many breaks or days off will we lose? But, now that the strike has ended, the answers to these questions should soon follow.