Just one day after Tacoma teachers voted to end their strike, their union and the school district were fighting again Friday.
And this time, the issue was over something as basic as it gets:
Their next payday.
Shortly after the teachers ratified a tentative three-year agreement Thursday, the district sent out a memo to staff members explaining how the strike will affect the Oct. 5 paycheck of employees in various job categories.
The memo says striking teachers will receive pay for only the two days they worked during the previous pay period.
It said that regular wages not paid on the Oct. 5 paycheck because of the strike “will be processed Oct. 20” – the next regular payday for the district.
“They will get caught up to where they should be,” said district spokesman Dan Voelpel.
Union leaders say holding back pay from teachers’ first check is unfair and that both sides had agreed not to retaliate against each other as part of the agreement brokered Wednesday night in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office.
“After speaking with Ron Hack, the district CFO this afternoon, I am convinced that there is no viable reason to take this action,” said Tacoma Education Association President Andy Coons in an email to The News Tribune. “This type of retaliatory action goes against the amnesty clause both (Superintendent Art) Jarvis and I negotiated to end the strike action in the presence of the governor.”
Coons said in a phone interview that he’s fielded hundreds of inquiries from teachers. He said the holdup on pay will cause them undue stress “when we should be trying to focus on our classrooms.”
Asked if the dispute would lead to another strike, Coons said: “We want to be back.”
Teachers point out that they aren’t paid by the day; they’re paid in 24 installments through the course of the year. They say they are paid through the summer and over the winter holiday break, even though they aren’t in the classroom during those times.
But Voelpel said the paychecks teachers receive during holiday times is what they have earned during the school year, though parceled out over 12 months.
Asked why the district is holding back on pay for the eight strike days, he said that “we can’t give them taxpayer money they have not yet earned.”
He added: “That would be a violation of state law.”
The district memo explained that the Oct. 5 paycheck covers hours worked Sept. 9-22. Teachers were on strike Sept. 13-22. That means the upcoming paycheck will cover only two school days – Sept. 9 and 12 – for teachers who walked picket lines.
TEA members who came to work during the strike – and the district said 88 of them came in on Tuesday – will receive extra money for the days they worked as well as their regular pay for the remainder of the school year. The extra pay will come from the district reserve fund.
“This was an expensive strike by teachers,” Voelpel said.
Coons said his members intend to live up to their contract, which calls for them to work 182 days – 180 student days, and two extra days for teachers to prepare before the start of school.
But he wrote a letter Friday to Jarvis and the school board likening the short paychecks to “retribution or retaliation by district administrators.” He called “absurd” the administration’s claim that paying Tacoma teachers a full paycheck Oct. 5 would constitute an unlawful gift of public funds.
Coons said that if the district can pay TEA members Oct. 20, they should be able to pay them Oct. 5. The first strike makeup day doesn’t come until Dec. 19; the last one is June 19.
He said several thousand families of TEA members will face hardships because of the district decision.
“You are going to have 2,000 families not being able to make their mortgages, not being able to pay their bills based on this,” he said.
Asked why his members couldn’t hold out for two weeks, he said “most teachers live paycheck to paycheck.”
School Board President Kurt Miller said the move isn’t about reprisals against strikers.
“There is no recrimination,” he said. “This is the state auditor saying you can’t pay (people) for work that’s not been done.”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 debbie.cafazzo@ thenewstribune.com