Teachers unions in districts with unusually high pay are feeling nervous

The local teachers union in Everett is threatening to strike. It’s unfortunate to see this type of threat being raised once again, because it really is the kids who lose out when their instructional year is interrupted for picketing.

The reason here may not be obvious, because Everett teachers are some of the best-paid in the state. The union feels, however, that its position near the top of that pyramid is precarious.

“Everett teachers are among the highest paid in the state and [the local union president] said that the union has a lot to lose,” the Everett Herald wrote. The paper cuts to the heart of the matter regarding the union’s concerns about the ongoing McCleary negotiations in Olympia:

“The largest financial piece remains, which is figuring out how much money the state must provide school districts to cover salaries of teachers, staff and administrators involved in basic education. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies.

“The challenge is especially formidable in Snohomish County where the most experienced teachers earn the highest pay in the state with the help of levy dollars. Everett School District tops the list as teachers with 29 years experience and a master’s degree can make $103,000 this school year under the union contract. That’s $30,000 a year more than their peers in many other districts around the state, according to figures compiled in 2016 by the Washington Education Association.”

OSPI has reported that about 80% of the average local school levy is used to pay staff salaries. I don’t expect Everett teachers to go against their own financial interest, but at the same time, it’s difficult to see how the state can continue to allow these wide disparities in pay between school districts. They extend far beyond cost-of-living differences. OSPI has reported that about 80% of the average local school levy is used to pay staff salaries.

As the state takes on more of the total burden of financing K-12, a rational teacher pay system must be part of meeting McCleary. After all, the ruling requires equitable funding for all districts. How then can we allow $30,000+ pay differences between districts?

Regardless of their reasons, a strike by Everett teachers would be illegal. Public employees in Washington, including teachers, do not have the right to strike.

Of course, union leadership has a history of soft-pedaling that fact to its membership. The unions may not like to admit it, but they don’t have any judicial precedent to stand on. Strikes are illegal, and unions and possibly even the members themselves could face fines and penalties for walking off the job.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.