School district staff protest lack of contract

SNOQUALMIE - For one night they diverged from their usual role of seen and not heard.

Marching from Sandy Cove Park to the Snoqualmie Valley School District's administration building, some 50 classified workers from the district chanted "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" and handed out bright green flyers.

The classified workers, including instructional assistants, maintenance, food service, custodial and transportation personnel, were protesting the district's decline of their request for a 3-percent raise in pay. Representatives from the Snoqualmie Valley Public School Employees union, speaking for 200 school support employees, said they have not had a raise in two years, but meanwhile the cost of living keeps rising and the teachers and administrators they work with each day have received locally funded pay increases.

The two sides began negotiations for a new three-year contract in August and are still at an impasse.

"We want to be valued as employees who live in the same tax base area as the administrators," said Linda Wallace, president of the union. "We shop at the same stores they do and they make three to five times more than we make. We're struggling and I don't feel what we're asking for is unfair."

Wallace said the district has money from the state, which passed a 1-percent wage increase this year for classified employees. Classified employees want, in addition to that 1 percent from the state, 2 percent from the district.

It would cost the district $64,000 for all three years to give the classified workers a 2-percent wage hike.

Wallace said the employees just want the 2-percent raise for the first year, and the second and third years they are willing to take whatever the state is willing to pass.

"The longest sitting board member stated in negotiations that they had to give the administrators a 3-percent increase because they couldn't be replaced. In other words, we're replaceable," said Wallace, a kitchen manager of 11 years.

That board member, president Rick Krona, said the statement in question was a "misquote or misstatement" and that he doesn't like to compare different jobs within the district.

"Principals are very difficult to find and I don't want to imply that classified workers are replaceable, but it's more difficult to find a qualified principal in today's market than a classified person," Krona said. "That's the harsh facts of life."

Mike Finney, head custodian at both the district's middle schools as well as all the schools during summer months, said he's been in the union for 24 years and still makes only $33,000.

"You can't make it," said Finney, who also served as president of the union for 13 years. "Krona said he could replace us, but not the administrators. I think he'd have trouble replacing us."

Wallace said the purpose of the demonstration was to draw attention to the workers' "plight" and that besides not receiving a raise for two years, she also feels the workers are understaffed.

"And the hard physical work of running the schools is what we're doing," Wallace said. "Classified employees should be treated equitably compared to other employees of the district. We've made a reasonable offer that is backed up by the facts."

Krona said what the workers are asking for is not "totally unreasonable, but exceeds our ability to pay for it."

"Despite tonight's demonstration, we are scheduled to meet with the union again and I believe we are close to an agreement. I hope we will reach an agreement in the very near future," Krona said.

Snoqualmie Valley School District Superintendent Rich McCullough said he doesn't think the classified workers' request is unreasonable and that a settlement should be reached soon.

"They're very close. I think they're working hard, even the effort last night to motivate the board by legitimate, peaceful picketing is part of the process," McCullough said. "It's usually harder when money is tight and conditions right now are tight, not impossible, but tight. The association's proposal has been restrained by that knowledge and the board's position in bargaining has been tempered by it."

Another closed negotiation session mediated by an official from the state Public Employment Relations Commission is scheduled for Nov. 30.

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