Continuing labor fight leads TESC to delay event

Staff writerMay 30, 2013 

An ongoing labor dispute between The Evergreen State College leaders and a union representing 57 student-support services workers still is at a virtual impasse, and the college announced Thursday it is postponing a Saturday gathering of alumni out of worry about disruptions from workers.

In the meantime, the parties report they are returning to mediation under the guidance of the Public Employment Relations Commission, a state agency, after a one-day walkout. The workers, who include residence advisers, counselors and coaches, walked off the job Tuesday, disrupting some college activities, but were back working Wednesday.

College spokesman Todd Sprague said the ongoing labor dispute and potential for disruption led the school to postpone Saturday’s “Return to Evergreen” event. He said the event was educational and included seminars.

“Because the college does not want alumni or other guests to travel to campus with the intent of participating, only to have those plans obstructed by the union, the event is being postponed until fall 2013,” Sprague said in a statement.

Those registered for the event are being contacted directly that the event is canceled, Sprague said.

A second event — the school’s yearly Science Carnival displaying the work of science students — will go on as planned Friday and Saturday, according to Sprague.

Tim Welch, spokesman for the Washington Federation of State Employees, said the college was taking a “pre-emptive strike” by canceling an event even before workers had decided on a course of action for Saturday.

The federation placed a full-page ad in The Olympian’s Thursday editions. Headlined “Return to Evergreen?” it publicized the support-staff union’s 17-month quest to win a first contract.

Courtney Bailey, a member of the Student Support Services Exempt Staff’s bargaining team, said her union has been calling on the college to continue talks. She also said “our intent wasn’t to disrupt the event but to give information to people. I’m sad they canceled it. ... I hope they do it again.”

The top divisive issues in the talks between the union and college administration are rules for disciplining and firing employees for just cause and pay.

In a written statement Tuesday, Evergreen President Les Purce said that the college has already offered the student services employees just cause protections in disciplinary proceedings, as well as salary raises for this year and next year that are “comparable to plans for other exempt employees at the college.” Purce said that college officials were surprised the union chose to strike.

But Bailey has said the college’s offer leaves the review of disciplinary actions against employees in the hands of college managers. The union wants an independent review of decisions to discipline or fire employees, she said. The union also regards the college’s offer of 4 percent in pay raises over two years as insufficient compared with the 7.5 percent received by faculty.

Two right-of-center think tanks have suggested the strike is illegal but neither Sprague nor the state attorney general’s office was willing to comment Thursday on what actions the state or school could take if workers leave their jobs again. State workers in Washington “do not have a legally protected right to strike,” but state law does not expressly prohibit it, according to information posted on the state attorney general’s office website.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688

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