Waving signs near Edmonds School District headquarters, members of the district’s Association of Office Personnel rallied Thursday afternoon for support as they continue to negotiate their contract.
Since May, the school district and office professionals from the Edmonds-OP Chapter of Public School Employees of Washington SEIU have been in negotiations. In the past, the district has determined the union’s contracts based on the midpoint wage and benefits for surrounding school districts. However, chapter president Lauri Velasquez said that is not the case this time around.
Velasquez, an office manager at Beverly Elementary School, said that the district has not yet decided which of the neighboring districts’ contracts will be used to determine wages for ESD office personnel.
“We can’t come to an agreement with the bargaining team from the school district to figure out the comparison much less even calculating out the comparison,” she said.
The last contract term for office personnel was three years and expired Aug. 31. During this round of negotiations, the district has proposed both a five-year term and a one-year term, said district accounting technician Julie Martin. Additionally, Martin said she believes the district has been trying to avoid paying office personnel higher wages by removing higher-paying districts from the equation.
“They want to remove them from our comparison, because they (neighboring districts) get more money than we get,” she said.
In the wake of a $17.7 million deficit, the district has had to tighten its belt for the 2019-20 school year. Velasquez said she and the rest of the office personnel understand the difficult situation that the district is in, but that has not stopped other employees from being compensated.
“Other groups in our district have been given additional time off or additional funds,” she said. “It somehow doesn’t seem as equitable when it comes to our group.”
It’s not just district-wide budget cuts affecting the chapter’s contract. A new statewide health program gives part-time employees — as well some full-time employees — better coverage. However, Velasquez said money used for that program is being taken from funding that was previously used to give office personnel better insurance rates.
Though Velasquez said she supports providing improved coverage for part-time employees, she said it means less funding overall for office personnel.
“We’ve always had additional funds as a ‘flow through’ from the district toward our insurance and that is going away,” she said. “And we haven’t reached any reconciliation with the district to compensate for that loss.”
Union representative John Kapple said money is not the only issue that needs to be resolved before a contract can be approved by the school board.
“We’re committed to trying to get a proposal that we can feel proud of and that our members will support,” he said.
The issue was addressed during the Edmonds School Board’s Aug. 13 meeting, when union members spoke during the public comment period. Since then, Martin said the negotiations have started to make headway.
“I don’t know what it means going forward, but at least we finally got them to actually listen to us,” she said.
District spokesperson Harmony Weinberg said the district is committed to reaching a fair contract with its employees.
“We are continuing the bargaining process in good faith with the ESD Association of Office Personnel regarding their new contract,” she said. “As negotiations are ongoing, the district is not able to share specific details at this time.”
Martin said union members plan to attend the school board’s Sept. 10 meeting.
–Story and photos by Cody Sexton