The Seattle Education Association union has filed unfair labor practice complaints against Seattle Public Schools for actions the district took late last week to bring some educators back to classrooms before the two sides had reached an agreement on reopening school buildings after months of remote learning because of the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, the union filed three complaints with the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission alleging the district interfered with the rights of employees to collectively bargain working conditions, violating two state statutes. Each complaint represents one of three main categories of employees the union represents: teachers, paraeducators and school-building office staffers.
After getting authorization from the Seattle School Board last week, the district designated some 700 educators as “essential” to speed up the process of in-person instruction for special education students, some of whom have been waiting months for services as COVID-19 school building closures remain in place. The most recent agreement with the teachers union requires the district to negotiate a return to in-person instruction, but the move last week uses a clause in the contract that gives the superintendent the right to determine essential staff who need to be on-site in buildings.
The union argued that the action forces educators back into the classroom before the two parties were able to agree on important coronavirus safety protocols.
“SEA’s bargaining is critical to make sure all possible protections are in place to keep our students and educators safe,” said Jennifer Matter, president of the Seattle Education Association, in a Monday morning statement. “Putting additional students, some of them medically fragile, in classrooms when the district isn’t even providing adequate protection for those few students and staff in-person now, is risky, irresponsible, and reckless.”
In a Monday afternoon statement, school district spokesperson Tim Robinson said SPS was aware of the complaints and planned to proceed with summoning those educators back.
“SPS will participate in the Public Employment Relations Commission process as this issue is formally adjudicated,” Robinson wrote in a statement. “SPS is confident that after the facts are heard, the unfair labor practice allegations raised by SEA will be dismissed.”