Tumwater schools going to court over 'illegal' strike; teachers call it 'bullying'

TUMWATER, Wash. – The Tumwater School Board approved a resolution on Thursday morning authorizing the district’s superintendent to file an injunction against striking teachers, a decision the teachers union described as “bullying.”

The district and the Tumwater Education Association will argue in Thurston County superior court Friday morning to decide whether the district is entitled to a preliminary injunction that would order the teachers to go back to work. TEA said if an injunction is granted, it will meet later Friday afternoon to decide on a response.

Tumwater teachers went on strike last Friday, and many other districts around the state are striking as well. Tacoma's strike began Thursday morning after 93 percent of the district's teachers voted to do so.

“The Washington State Supreme Court and Attorney General have determined state law prohibits strikes by public school employees and authorizes civil injunction proceedings and other remedies to address this illegal action,” the district said in a statement. “This is a step that the school board is taking to help encourage movement at the bargaining table and bring an end to this strike - just as the TEA has chosen steps they feel necessary to help make movement at the table.”

TEA said the teachers “will not back down,” saying they’re fighting for students and teachers alike.

“Taking teachers to court is a misguided strategy that does nothing to help reach a settlement,” TEA executive board member at large Justin McKaughan said in a statement. “Instead, it widens the conflict. The strategy proves that district administrators and the school board would rather resort to scare tactics and bullying than negotiate a fair contract. The bargaining table is the only place to negotiate. Not the courtroom.

“What the district should be doing is finding a solution at the bargaining table rather than in the courts. Filing legal complaints against teachers is counterproductive. It’s a strategy doomed to failure. Superintendent John Bash has made a misguided decision in filing an injunction.”

While teachers are not legally permitted to strike in Washington, there is no law on the books prescribing a punishment if they do so. If a judge issues an injunction ordering the teachers back to work and they refuse, however, they could be held in contempt of court.

The district said school would remain closed Friday as negotiations continue.

"We will not back down," McKaughan wrote. "We will stand together. We will continue to grow stronger with each passing day."