The last time Seattle teachers went on strike, it took the governor’s intervention to end a record work stoppage.
Thirty years have passed since Seattle’s last teacher strike over contract negotiations, a standoff that lasted long enough that some high-school kids protested outside district headquarters begging for classes to resume.
‘’It’s not just an extra vacation. We want the whole city to see us and know we want to get back to school,” a 16-year-old Nathan Hale student told The Seattle Times in September 1985.
About 3,700 educators stopped working while district and teachers-union negotiators battled over class size, special-education funding and pay for extra days worked, among other issues.
Some desperate parents even formed their own school. About 20 elementary students attended St. Mark’s Emergency School, staffed by two certified teachers.
Another set of parents sought a court order to reopen schools.
- Seattle parents share how they are handling their kids being out of school
- Pay varies widely for Washington state teachers
- In 1985, Seattle teachers went on strike for 19 days
- When courts have weighed in on teacher strikes, districts have usually won
In the end, it took 19 days of strike and Gov. Booth Gardner’s intervention to get the district’s 43,500 students back in school.
After weeks of impasse, a negotiation moderator suspended talks, and Gardner called negotiators to Olympia for a marathon bargaining session.
Gardner told reporters: “I slammed my hand on the table and said, ‘Let’s get this thing resolved. Let’s go for it.’ “
After several near-sleepless days, negotiators came to a one-year, $8.4 million agreement.
As the strike ended, Seattle Times reporter Joni Balter wrote: “Sheer delight and relief that the Seattle school strike has finally ended are virtually unanimous sentiments out on the street. But the longest school strike in city history promises to linger through the year, at least in the form of the revised school calendar.”
Effects of the longest teacher strike in Seattle history rippled throughout the city long after students returned to classrooms.
Balter wrote about the unintended consequences of the strike, such as canceled vacations, seniors not being able to raise summer money for college and child-custody complications.
The Cleveland High School football team couldn’t get enough students at practice to field a football team, so students played for the West Seattle High School team instead.
Winter vacation was cut by four days — with classes held on Christmas Eve. Spring break was cut by three days. Students worked into July to complete a full school year.
Ultimately, the contentious negotiation greased the skids for a quick and peaceful deal in 1986. Both sides took classes on conflict resolution, and agreed to a two-year deal in June, before summer vacation had begun.
Seattle teachers in 1991 participated in a statewide teacher walkout to push the state Legislature for more education funding.
Postcards from the Past is an occasional feature, highlighting the history of the Pacific Northwest. The images are from The Seattle Times archive.