Northwest NEWS

November 2, 1998

Local News

Workers picket school district

   by Woodinville Weekly staff
   BOTHELL--Frustration with wages surfaced last week as Northshore School District maintenance, grounds and warehouse (MGW) employees staged an informational picket, waving signs and passing out flyers in front of school district headquarters. The 50 MGW workers, without a new contract since June, 1997, want more money and fear the district will force an impasse.
   "We're not asking for a top end salary, but for a competitive salary," said carpenter Chris Hollis, Maintenance shop steward.
   School officials say the district strives to pay MGW workers at the midpoint of the maximum salaries offered by area districts like Bellevue, Edmonds, Everett, Lake Washington, Seattle and Shoreline. "We want to offer a competitive wage, but we have to maintain fairness with other employees and bargaining groups," said district spokeswoman Pamela Steele. "We have a research based process to determine the salaries of all employees. We look at nine districts we believe are the highest paid in the state."
   Chris Cottnair, Grounds shop steward, says he doesn't have faith in the nine-district scale, though. "There's no law that says Northshore has to be in the midpoint of the scale," says Cottnair who cares for Bothell High School, and Westhill and Shelton View elementaries by himself. Northshore has 31 campuses.
   A district welder said there had been no raises beyond those mandated by the state in the past six years. The last wage adjustment authorized by the Legislature was 3 percent in 1997.
   Steele says those who choose to work for the district trade higher wages in the private sector for job stability, personal leave and benefits.
   Picketing began last Monday and continued through the week. MGW members were joined by custodians and cooks. Those on the line carried signs that read "Unfair" in large, red print.
   MGW's union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) on clothing allowances and filling of a supervisory position. The district says the position has been filled in the interim, which MGW members scoff at.
   A federal mediator worked from January through June of this year to reach a settlement after talks stalled last November. In August the parties requested assistance from PERC and have met twice.
   While the district says it's willing to work toward a settlement, Cottnair isn't sure. "We think they're working towards an impasse." Under an impasse, MGW workers, who contractually can't strike, could get the last contract the district gave them, members said. An impasse would be declared by a federal mediator. Both sides will sit down today (Nov. 2) at 1 p.m. in Bothell with a mediator.