What teacher's strike?

THE WASHINGTON EDUCATION ASSOCIATION spent big on Initiative 732 last November, and won big, too, with nearly two-thirds of voters approving its mandate to give teachers annual cost-of-living increases, thereby blowing a $300 million hole in the state budget. But instead of glorying in their accomplishment, WEA leaders have been furiously attacking the state for "betraying" its teachers by interpreting 732 to apply only to state employees—and not to school personnel paid by funds from other agencies, mostly federal.

Ever since January, when Gov. Gary Locke's budget was announced, the WEA fax machine has been spewing press releases, demanding that the governor "honor the will and intent of the voters" (January 31), expressing official regrets for endorsing Locke's campaign for re-election (February 21), and finally proclaiming (on March 8) that "grassroots frustration over the Legislature's lack of leadership on public education funding is driving talk of a statewide strike by teachers."

Grassroots? Really? Not by the WEA's own statistics: In mid-March, members around the state were asked to respond to a three-question survey as a first step toward a statewide strike plan. The teachers were asked if they would a) be willing to participate in a local rally against the legislature's penny-pinching, b) agree to attend a rally even it meant taking a day off from work, or c) be willing to participate in an actual strike—though "of limited duration."

Unsurprisingly, nearly three-quarters of responding members signaled willingness to demonstrate, but only half approved walking off the job for even a day. Overall, members came down decisively against a full-fledged strike. Even in the WEA's heartland, only half proclaimed willingness; elsewhere in the state, teachers opposed a strike by a 2-to-1 margin.

As if an insufficiently militant membership weren't annoying enough, the WEA chieftains are also under siege from another quarter. Prodded by the libertarian Evergreen Freedom Foundation, attorney general Christine Gregoire has brought suit against the WEA, claiming that it illegally funneled member dues into its political action committee. Last time that question came up, in 1998, the WEA ended up paying more than $400,000 in fines and rebates to settle the case.

ROGER DOWNEY rdowney@seattleweekly.com

 
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