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After months without a contact, vote nears for Snoqualmie school employees union

More than 200 classified school employees are expected to vote Wednesday, Nov. 20, on a new contract proposal from the Snoqualmie Valley School District. The proposal is the first that the local Public School Employees (PSE) bargaining team has agreed to bring to its general membership. It’s also long-awaited, since the union began negotiating a new contract with the Snoqualmie Valley School District last April.

“We’re working under an expired contract,” PSE President Jill Holen told the Record last week via telephone. The contract, covering most of the district’s non-teaching and non-secretarial employees, officially expired Sept. 1. By state law, though, the terms of the contract remain in effect for the next year —or until a new contract is approved, which Holen is hoping might happen next week.

“We are taking back the last offer that they gave us … for the membership to vote on, because we can’t do a thing without the membership,” Holen said. Although she wouldn’t discuss the terms of the latest offer, produced after a lengthy meeting Nov. 12, she said, “I think it’s pretty close… we’re going in without judgment, we want to keep it neutral, we want to hear what the members have to say.”

Many members have been talking about the contract, during public comment periods at various school board meetings for the past few months. They’ve not only called on the board to settle the extended negotiations, but to show union members the respect they deserve with a fair contract. Some have asked for their hours, whittled away as the district implemented greater cost-saving measures each year, back. Others have tearfully talked about loving their jobs but approaching the point that they can’t afford to continue working for the district—losing their homes, relying on free/reduced-price lunch assistance for their own children. A few appealed to the board’s own morals.

“Providing a respectful contract… costs the district little, and is the right thing to do,” said Kari Ann Wilder at the Nov. 7 school board meeting. “So why does the district refuse to provide a fair contract?”

Fair, by most union members’ definitions, meant similar to the contract that the teachers’ union accepted in September, with an annual pay increase and health care funding.

Reduced work hours

According to union staff with PSE of Washington, the last pay increase awarded to PSE was a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment three years ago.

“There hasn’t been a pay increase (in the district) since 2010,” said Andy Wiesenfeld, a PSE field representative with the state union organization. “Pay has pretty much been frozen since that time.”

Stagnant wages aside, many workers, particularly custodians and aides, says Wiesenfeld, had their work hours reduced. These employees not only took home less pay, but without working a minimum number of hours, they also failed to qualify for some benefits.

“There have been two populations most severely hit,” said Wiesenfeld. “The first population are para-eduators, particularly special-ed para-educators…. the second is custodians. When school districts were looking at the possibility of funding reductions in 2007… the custodial workforce, all of whom used to be year-round employees… some of them lost as much as three months of work.”

To date, most of those hours had not been restored. They are not a part of the current contract proposal, either, Holen admitted. However, she said the proposal is similar to that accepted by the teachers, which union members have used as a yardstick for the past several months.

“I’m just hoping that it’s fair for everyone,” Holen said. “There are so many aspects to it… there are things for everybody in there, and I hope it works.”

PSE members will meet at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20 at the Freshman Campus in Snoqualmie to review the contract proposal.

 

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