District continues labor negotiations with secretaries

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - If you see someone around the Valley wearing a "respect" button take a moment to ask them what it means.

Chances are, they'll be more than happy to tell you.

Snoqualmie Valley School District secretaries have been trying to secure a contract with the district since May, and they don't feel their Dec. 2 negotiation session brought them any further.

"We feel like the message they're sending is they don't respect us or what we do enough to bring us up to a comparable wage," said Cathy Adkins, an administrative secretary for the district and president of the Snoqualmie Valley Administrative Secretaries Association.

She said the wages Snoqualmie Valley secretaries make is are to 16-percent less per hour than the average wage of their counterparts in the Issaquah, Monroe, Riverview, Tahoma, Mercer Island and Bellevue school districts.

Superintendent Rich McCullough said he hasn't seen such a comparison, and feels the union should submit the numbers to the district negotiations committee.

"I don't have any question that until they get their contract settlement they won't feel they're getting respect," McCullough said. "At the same time, the board is trying to balance all the needs of the other unions and all other costs of running the district. It's complicated."

The secretaries are asking for a flat 10-percent increase now.

"We're simply asking for a fair contract comparable to other districts," Adkins said. "After researching wages in our area we seem to be paid well below average."

The district's latest proposal is to give the secretaries a two percent raise for the first year and a one percent raise for the second and third years not including the cost of living money allocated by the state. Adkins said the $101.16 the state has set aside to ease the costs of health care for state employees is also being kept from them.

"We've actually gone backwards since May," Adkins said. "The state has allocated $101.16 per state employee for health care benefits and that is not being given to us. So we're having to negotiate for this and it wasn't even part of what we were negotiating over to begin with. We should have started receiving that in our October pay and we haven't seen it yet."

Tensions are high. At this point in the negotiations the representatives from the secretaries union and district negotiation committee don't meet in the same room during negotiation sessions. A mediator carries their messages from group to group in different rooms.

And, Adkins said, the "proposals" from the district are not referred to as "proposals" but "what ifs" because the groups are at such an impasse.

"It's 'what if they do this, are you willing to do this?'" Adkins said. "I can't call it a proposal."

McCullough said state money has not yet been distributed to classified or secretarial employees because a contract hasn't been settled yet and that the money is only allocated for state funded positions. Not all classified and secretarial workers are state funded positions.

And the $101.16 isn't a figure that each individual employee would receive anyway. The $101.16 owed each employee is pooled together and distributed according to need.

"The secretarial group is an exceptional group of employees and they do great work," McCullough said. "It's a real problem for me as a superintendent that they're not feeling respected. The solution is to persist with the bargaining on both sides until we get a resolution."

Like the classified workers, secretaries have not had a raise in two years.

The union's response to the district's latest "what if" was an overwhelmingly "no" vote.

Meanwhile, classified workers aren't faring any better. Their fourth negotiation session on Nov. 30 did not yield the 3-percent raise they've been asking for since August when negotiations began.

"We got no where," said Linda Wallace, classified workers' union representative. "We are still saying the district is not giving. We'll be picketing until we can reach an agreement."

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