Striking Washington state educators end walkout after a tough battle
Supporters of striking para educators | Tim Wheeler/PW

PORT ANGELES, Wash. – Port Angeles paraprofessionals (paras) voted 96% to ratify a new contract ending their weeklong strike. They reported to work at city schools on Monday. Rebecca Winters, president of the Port Angeles Paraeducators Association (PAPEA) said the 130 paras are “thrilled” to end their walkout after an all-day bargaining session with the Port Angeles School District (PASD) Sunday. She said the paras love the children they serve.

Details of the settlement have not yet been released. The main demand was a 3.7% cost-of-living raise or $128,000 for the 130 PAPEA  members, a demand so modest it was widely considered absurd that PASD refused to settle.

As the paras marched on their picket lines outside PASD headquarters, last Friday, about twenty parents and children walked into the lobby of the building and met with a woman representing PASD. She pleaded for calm and patience but the parents were running out of patience.

One mother, holding the hand of her child demanded, “When will you meet the demands of the paras? When will classes reopen? My children need to be back in their classrooms.”

One mother was standing beside her little boy who was lying flat on a specially designed wheelchair. She too pressed the demand for an immediate settlement and reopening of schools so her disabled child receives the care paras provide.”

Striking paraprofessional educators and their teacher allies had defied a back-to-work order and marched on their picket lines for a fourth day Thursday here on the Olympic peninsula.

More than 300 paras and their allies rallied at Shane Park on the west side of town on April 11 and cheered speakers who blasted the Port Angeles School District (PASD) for rejecting the paras’ demand for a 3.7% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), a total of $128,000 for the 130 para-educators.

The paras and the 222 city teachers honoring the paras’ picket lines stood vigil at schools throughout the city for the entirety of last week with all the schools closed. The teachers and paras are represented by the Washington Education Association (WEA).

This reporter joined a picket line on the east side of town, marching on the sidewalk along U.S. 101 near Roosevelt Middle School. We were greeted with a deafening din as motorists and log truck drivers leaned on their horns, waved, and gave us the thumbs-up salute.

This strike has galvanized the pro-union sentiment of the overwhelming majority of working people in Clallam County.

Paras here are paid about $25 per hour. One striker told me she and her husband are barely scraping by, in debt as the cost of groceries, gasoline, rent, and utilities soars. “The school district rejects our 3.7% COLA, claiming they don’t have the money. But they voted themselves a salary increase well above 3.7%. Where is the equity?”

At a rally last week while the strike was still underway, Rebecca Winters, President of the Port Angeles Para-Educators Association (PAPEA) denounced the back-to-work order and told the crowd that PAPEA’s proposal to resume bargaining was rejected by the school board. She vowed to stay out on strike as long as it took to win a fair contract.

“What do we want?” she shouted.

“Fair contract!” the crowd roared.

“When do we want it?”


Sen. Emily Randall, Deputy Majority Leader of the Washington State Senate, and a staunch advocate of public education and affordable health care told the crowd, “You deserve this COLA. It is the bare minimum for what you do,” she said.

Randall is a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Congress 6th Congressional District that includes Port Angeles. She added, “We have a lot more work to do to ensure that your voices are heard, fight hard for the COLA, and ensure that classrooms are safe. Port Angeles is a union town!”

Randall was not the only candidate. Nate Tyler, a leader of the Makah tribe in Neah Bay who is running in the August 6 primary for a seat in the legislature, came with two of his grandchildren to express his full support for the paras.

April Sims, President of the Washington State Labor Council said she was bringing solidarity greetings from the 635,000 union workers in the Evergreen State.

The refusal of the school board to grant the 3.7% COLA “shows disrespect for school workers,” Sims charged.

PAPEA member fightback has won the support of the labor movement and community, she said.

“Where there is clarity….community….solidarity, you have victory,” she said. “You are fighting not only for yourselves but for your community. You have what it takes.”

The crowd again burst into chants, “Fee, fie, fo, fum, Listen, Marty, Here we come.” (Marty Brewer is the School Superintendent in Port Angeles).

Musicians and singers led the crowd in union songs including “We don’t want your millions mister…All we want is a fair contract.”

Cindy Kelly, a former Port Angeles School Board member, a member of an Oklahoma tribe who serves on the Native American Education Advisory Committee read from the PASD “strategic plan” promising quality education by fairly paid staff. “You deserve it,” she said of the denied COLA.

Nancy McCaleb, who retired last year from the Port Angeles schools said, “I spent 42 years as an educator, 32 of those years in Port Angeles. I love Port Angeles children. They deserve the best.”

PASD’s job, she continued, “is to help us do the job. The district has decided we are not worthy of the COLA.  There was no bargaining in good faith. We have to be out on the picket line to get 3.7%….$128,000. The district can’t sustain that? We say ‘Do your work! Find the money! Too often we back off, and settle. That means we continue to be underpaid and overworked.

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Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.