Office staff at North Thurston Public Schools are ready to strike after months of contract negotiations.
At a general membership meeting Tuesday of the North Thurston Association of Office and Technical Professionals, 78 percent voted to authorize their bargaining team to call a strike, according to union co-president Kristi Ashmore.
The union represents 137 workers at district offices and schools. Their contract expired Aug. 31 and they have been negotiating a new contract since June.
Members went to work Wednesday, and Ashmore said a decision on whether to strike will depend on how negotiations go.
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“We’re hoping the district will want to move up our next negotiation session, which is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 27,” Ashmore said Wednesday, adding she had not heard from district officials about the vote.
“Our members are ready to take action and prepared, we’re just hoping to get that negotiation session moved up,” she said.
In a statement Wednesday afternoon, the district said it was willing to meet earlier than scheduled with the union. It noted changes to school funding at the state level have created “challenging budget dynamics.”
“Like other districts across the state, NTPS will experience a substantial reduction in our ability to collect local levies which helps funds staff salaries. The new state funding formula and other changes currently create challenging budget dynamics statewide,” according to the statement.
The union contends the district received $1.8 million to increase salaries for office professionals but that administrators want to spend 80 percent of that on other things.
Over the summer, the state funding changes led to contentious teacher contract negotiations and, according to the Washington Education Association, teacher strikes in 15 districts.
A strike in Tumwater delayed the start of school nearly two weeks. North Thurston teachers were on the verge of voting on a strike authorization before reaching a contract agreement that included double-digit percentage salary increases.
Ashmore said the teachers’ experience this summer is an example for her members.
“Seeing the unity that the teachers pulled together (and) that unity is going to get us somewhere, that’s had a huge impact on our members,” Ashmore said.