Officials of IUOE Local 302, the union that represents about 400 Seattle Public Schools culinary workers, custodians, security workers, and groundkeepers, say workers are likely to be at work when kids return to school on Wednesday — in spite of news reports of an impending strike. The union and district are in heated contract negotiations for months and the workers current contract ended on August 31.
While a strike is possible, for now members will engage in “job actions” to air their contract concerns. Jo actions include “informational picketing after school on Wednesday, and, if no contract on Thursday, we will do the same thing on Friday,” a union representative said on September 4.
In the meantime, the school district posted a more optimistic bargaining update on September 1, downplaying the importance of the the current contract’s end without a new agreement in place.
“We know how important these teams are for the success of our schools,” the message from SPS Chief of Staff Bev Redmond said. “It is not unusual to go past the contract end date for these negotiations. We will continue to update you as our progress continues.”
Rumblings of discontent
Whether or not Local 302 members decide to strike or not, the workers have been given a big nod of encouragement from local teachers. When Local 302 members demonstrated their concerns with an informal picket line at the Seattle Public School board meeting on August 30, the Seattle Education Association — the Seattle Public Schools teacher’s union — joined them in support.
“SEA educators stand in solidarity with the IUOE 302 custodians, gardeners, culinary and nutrition service workers, and security personnel as they negotiate a fair and just contract,” the teacher’s union announced on Facebook. “Fabulous IUOE members make our schools work every day.”
Earlier in the week, Westside Seattle ran a story pointing to a potential strike by the approximately 400 school employee members of Local 302, a move that could dramatically disrupt school operations. If a strike occurs, trash service, school safety, and school meals would all be impacted. Seattle Public Schools serves more than 27,000 meals each day.
Proposals called “disrespectful”
The Westside Seattle blog included what it reported to be an email from union contract negotiators to union members calling the district’s proposals “disrespectful and offensive” and calling members to do strike training. At the school board meeting, union reps stated their discontent with the district’s proposal as of Aug. 30.
IUOE Local 302 District Representative Tony Frascone would not confirm the new outlet’s report or the content of the purported email to members. “Any information that is out there about our plans has been leaked from members directly,” he said. “Our union has a strict no talking to media policy for all staff.”
Last week the school district sent out this statement regarding the negotiations: “Seattle Public Schools (SPS) values the hard work of our staff. We continue to make progress in the negotiation with our labor partners in Local 302 International Union of Operating Engineers. Bargaining teams have been working hard this summer to achieve the new 302 collective bargaining agreement for our valued custodians, culinary services, grounds, security and alarm monitor teams. SPS anticipates beginning an excellent school year on time on September 6, 2023.”
At the same time, according to SPS staff who requested to remain anonymous, the district’s central office employees were told last week to stand ready to jump in and help at school sites during the first week of school. District officials did not respond to a request for comment on the employee’s statement.