By Paige Cornwell
Members of Seattle's educators union voted Sunday to approve their contract deal with Seattle Public Schools, officially ending a strike that began nearly two weeks ago.
More than 3,000 teachers and other school employees voted overwhelmingly to approve the three-year contract with the school district at a meeting in downtown Seattle that began Sunday afternoon and continued into the evening.
Classes that resumed Thursday pending the ratification vote will continue Monday.
Of the members who attended the meeting at Benaroya Hall, 83 percent of teachers, 87 percent of paraprofessionals and 96 percent of office professionals voted to approve the contract, according to the Seattle Education Association. The union represents 5,000 teachers and other employees in the school district.
After the vote, union President Jonathan Knapp said he wanted to reiterate what a "groundbreaking and far-reaching contract this was." The contract "changed the landscape of bargaining," he added.
The meeting lasted more than four hours, with members asking questions about the contract before voting with paper ballots. Phyllis Campano, the union's vice president and bargaining chair, said members asked what they could do to ensure more for students.
"This is a great first step for our kids in Seattle," said Campano, a special-education teacher.
Members chanted "Union power!" and "Next stop: Olympia!" as they left the building later that evening. The meeting had the largest turnout in the union's history, Campano said.
With the strike officially ended, advocacy groups will now be turning their attention to Olympia, where lawmakers have been sanctioned by the State Supreme Court for failing to come up with a plan to fully fund public education, as required by the 2012 McCleary decision.
The ratification vote ends a strike that began Sept. 8 after negotiations with the district stalled. School was scheduled to start the next day for the district's 53,000 students but was delayed to last Thursday.
Teachers and other members of the Seattle Education Association picketed and performed community service work for the five school days they were on strike.
The two sides reached a tentative agreement early Tuesday morning, and the union's board of directors and representative both voted later that day to recommend the contract to the general membership. The recommendation suspended the strike until Sunday's vote.
The tentative contract needed a simple majority for approval for each of the groups that the union represents: teachers, paraprofessionals and office staff, such as secretaries. Each unit needed to have at least 20 percent of its members present.
As union members walked into Benaroya Hall, a group stood outside and held up signs to show support for teachers. Doug Balcom said they would support the members regardless of how they voted.
"For those who have been feeling like they might say no, we really want them to know we have their back, because that's a hard decision to make," said Balcom, whose daughter attends Jane Addams Middle School.
Attendees said members of the bargaining team received a standing ovation at the meeting.
Some union members had criticized certain aspects of the contracts, including compensation -- a 9.5 percent increase over three years in addition to a 4.8 percent cost-of-living adjustment from the state over two years -- and special-education student-teacher ratios. If union members had voted to reject the agreement, the strike could have resumed.
Seattle teachers last went on strike due to stalled contract negotiations in 1985.
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