Del Norte County teachers spent Friday afternoon drenched by rain as they walked the sidewalk in front of the Del Norte County Fairgrounds and waved signs declaring “Stronger Together.”
Passing cars honked and drivers yelled in support.
Friday’s demonstration came in anticipation of a possible teachers’ strike. However, Del Norte Unified School District officials say the teachers can’t legally strike at this point.
“While negotiations are still going on, while the district is still negotiating in good faith, unions aren’t supposed to strike until the district gives its last, best and final offer," said the district’s director of communications and outreach, Michael Hawkins.
Over 90% of the teacher association’s members voted Dec. 18 in favor of a strike, should one become necessary. If they union doesn’t agree to the district’s final contract offer after a state factfinder’s report is released Jan 14, the teachers say they’ll strike.
Previously, Del Norte Teachers Association president Marshall Jones told The Triplicate the teachers could strike on Jan 15. But, the district’s Hawkins said, three factors stand in the way of that strike.
The teachers first must wait for the factfinder’s report to be released, which is scheduled for Tuesday, and then for the district to make a final contract offer.
They must also give at least three business days’ advance notice to the district prior to a strike, which means they would needed to have given notice by last Friday. According to Hawkins, the school district has received no such notice.
After the factfinder’s report is made public, the district will prepare a final offer for the teachers. That report is the result of a state mediation hearing that included both parties, as well as collecting data from other school districts. The findings will reveal what the third party believes is the appropriate next step.
“The most important piece in all of this is the factfinder’s (report)," Hawkins said. "The school board is going to take whatever is in that report with a lot of weight for moving forward with our final resolution with the (teachers’ association).”
Added Hawkins: “If teachers decide to follow legal guidelines for how and when they’re going to strike, the district will notify all parents and the community when it’s going to happen, through our website and through all our outlets.
“We’re hoping (the association) follows legal guidelines, that they do give us notice. That would have a huge negative impact on a lot of our community if they didn’t. Not a lot of people can afford outside daycare or to stay home from work.
“We’re really hoping that we’re given the opportunity to give the community as much notice as possible… We're still hopeful that we’re going to be able to resolve this,” said Hawkins.
Furthermore, in other media reports, Del Norte District Superintendent Jeff Harris referred to a professional agreement on the district’s website, between the district and the teachers’ union, that states the teachers are not to strike while the current employment agreement is in effect. The agreement is valid through Aug. 31, 2020.
“During the term of this professional agreement, the association agrees that there will be no strike, work stoppage, slow down, or other interference; and the district agrees that a lock out will not be imposed. Both sides agree to work together to support this article,” reads Article 4 of that agreement.
“If, after the exhaustion of all aspects of negotiations including the completion of all statutory impasse procedures, the district actually imposes its last, best, and final offer upon unit members, DNTA may proceed with lawful work stoppages (strikes) as long as they do not endanger the health and safety of students, or threaten to disrupt the educational process.”
The Triplicate reached out to Harris for further clarification, but did not receive a response prior to the press deadline.