Stay the Course
A ‘bullheaded group’ inspired by students is hard to stop
By John Rosales
It was three days before Thursday’s regular 7 p.m. board meeting in the Selah School District (SSD) of Washington state. People in this close-knit community near Yakima can set their watches by the long-standing gathering.
On that Monday morning in April, members of the Selah Education Support Personnel (SESP) and Selah Educational Office Personnel (SEOP) posted fliers on bulletin boards at five schools and the administration office announcing their Rally for Respect starting at 5:30 p.m. on the day of the meeting.
“They Can Run But They Can’t Hide,” the fliers read.
Tensions were already high. For 18 months, both unions and SSD had been bargaining a joint contract. Notices of the rally strained negotiations further since it called for protesters to assemble just outside the board room building.
“We wanted board members to see all the support we had as they entered the parking lot,” says Cindy Huntamer, SEOP president. “We made signs and buttons…ordered pizza and sodas.”
But when it came time for the 7 p.m. meeting, the board room was deserted. School administrators had changed the meeting’s start time. It had already taken place—at 7 a.m.
Solidarity Wins the Day
District officials had apparently ignored a Washington state law requiring state agencies to provide 20 days notice to change a regularly scheduled meeting of this type.
“[They] claimed the decision was made the week before, but they didn’t announce it until the day before,” says Huntamer, a federal programs secretary at the district’s early learning center.
“We found out by email,” Huntamer adds. “We were not pleased over the sudden change or that the meeting was now at a time when most people are at work.”
Unfazed, some members attended the early part of the meeting before checking in at work. Similarly, union officials decided to proceed with the demonstration.
“We’re a pretty bullheaded group,” says Butch Thompson, the district’s lead custodian and a former SESP president. “We had strong community support for that rally, so we decided to see it through.”
Despite knowing the board meeting was cancelled, more than 50 determined education support professionals (ESPs), teachers, parents, students, and community members appeared later in the day—closer to the rally’s planned start time. They carried signs, chanted, and passed out leaflets as planned.
“That rally was one example of how the community got behind us,” says Thompson, chair of the bargaining committee. Within weeks of the rally, a three-year agreement was reached.
“They had a large cash reserve and just didn’t want to give any of it to us,” Thompson says. “They (district negotiators) were more willing to talk after they saw what was happening.”
Great Letter sent in Solidarity from the AFL-CIO to Ms. O'Donnell
Dear Ms. O'Donnell:
We write in solidarity with our brothers and sisters of the BOCES TA and share their frustration of the pace of bargaining for a fair new contract.
Over 1,000 days is too long to wait for a new contract. SW BOCES is an integral part of our community and the BTA services some of the most vulnerable students in Westchester County. The BTA is being faced with increasing demands and decreasing benefits.
We urge you to respect your teachers and staff. We also call on you to respect the collective bargaining process, end the delays, and come to the table in good faith to resolve the remaining contract issues.
The Westchester/Putnam Central Labor Body AFL-CIO