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North Thurston Public Schools office staff could vote to strike Tuesday

Office workers with North Thurston Public Schools held a rally last week in front of the North Thurston Public Schools service center.
Office workers with North Thurston Public Schools held a rally last week in front of the North Thurston Public Schools service center. Kristi Ashmore

North Thurston Public Schools office staff, a group represented by their own bargaining unit, will meet Tuesday to decide whether to go on strike, a union official said Sunday.

North Thurston Office Professionals, which represents 137 workers, has been negotiating a new contract since June and has been in mediation since Oct. 3, co-president Kristi Ashmore said.

The union contends the school district has $1.8 million to increase office staff salaries, but wants to spend 80 percent of it on “things, not people.”

“Our district has the money to provide competitive pay raises for office professionals and other support staff,” Ashmore said.

A living wage in Lacey is considered $33 an hour, but office staff are nowhere near that in pay, Ashmore said. She provided two examples: Starting pay for an office professional 2 position is about $18 an hour and starting pay for an office professional 6 position is $24.46 an hour.

Ashmore said she was aware of an office worker at a district elementary school who visits the Thurston County Food Bank weekly.

“We want a fair contract,” she said, adding the union wants the district to pay a “living wage.”

The district responded Sunday with its own statement:

“New state funding formulas and a substantial reduction to districts’ ability to collect local levies is currently creating challenging budget dynamics for districts across the state. The district is committed to working through these challenges through positive engagement at the bargaining table.”

North Thurston teachers agreed to go back to work without a new contract, but since have settled on a new deal, Ashmore said. Meanwhile, office professionals, interpreters and IT workers for the district remain in mediation, she said, while district paraeducators are still at the negotiating table.

That totals about 600 employees, Ashmore said.

Before the general membership meeting on Tuesday, a North Thurston Public Schools budget forum is set for Monday (Oct. 29). A representative of the Washington Education Association will explain the school district’s budget.

The gathering was organized by the union, not the school district.

The meeting is set for 5:30-7 p.m. at the Rajinder S. Manhas Activity Center, 200 Sleater Kinney Road NE.

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