After more than two weeks of negotiations and a strike, Longview teachers and school secretaries overwhelming approved a tentative contract hammered out Saturday.
Union leaders said their members will return to work Monday, and students are scheduled to return to classrooms on Tuesday.
“I bet you there will be a lot of teachers working in their classroom (Sunday night). ... We’ve reached the end of the bridge, and we get to walk on the path and do our jobs,” said Lynn Nelson, a science teacher at Cascade Middle School following Sunday’s vote.
“The district is excited to get the school year started and the focus on helping kids learn and achieve," said Rick Parrish, district spokesperson.
Secretaries in attendance at the ratification meeting unanimously accepted the agreement. The teachers’ approved their tentative deal with 97.6 percent approval.
The union declined to release details of the tentative deal until after the school board reviews the proposal, said Ray Clift, president of the teachers’ union. The board meets Monday night for a regularly scheduled meeting. It was unclear when the board will vote on the contract.
“I’m pleased our negotiation teams have reached a tentative agreement,” said Superintendent Dan Zorn. “This means that together we can return to the important work of helping kids learn and grow in the classroom, while mending relationships within the district.”
Teachers had to return to work this week or face contempt of court, because Cowlitz Superior Court Judge Stephen Warning on Friday issued an injunction against the strike.
Including Monday, students will have missed eight days of classes. How the days will be made up was not immediately clear.
It was the district’s first teacher strike since 1984.
According to a press release issued early Sunday morning, the Longview Education Association, Longview Classified Public Employees Association and Service Employees International Union Local 925 reached the tentative contract agreements on behalf of their 920 members at around 3 a.m. Sunday.
Before negotiators struck the deal, teachers had been demanding an 11 percent pay hike, while the district had boosted its offer to 8.2 percent.
“I am glad the fight is over, and I feel like we won,” said Karen Kickabush, a Mark Morris secretary. “I just want to move forward and get our kids back to where they need to be.”
Longview teachers have been on strike since August 23 over salary rates and were later joined by LCPEA school secretaries and SEIU 925 classified employees in solidarity.
Educators say the agreement allows Longview to attract and keep qualified educators in the community.
Classified employees with SEIU 925 have not yet voted to ratify the agreements because their bylaws require additional notice for meetings of this nature. However, the terms of the agreement were presented to SEIU members Monday night.
Candace Fine, a bus driver for the Longview schools, said she was “pleased and relieved” to hear about the tentative agreement.
Other classified staff said the offer seems exciting now, but it is not as appealing as they would like.
“I think if people go home and put it to the numbers, they will have a different reaction,” said a Longview teachers aide who wished to remain unnamed.
SEIU 925 will meet for a ratification meeting at 5 p.m. Tuesday, but their members will return to work Monday and Tuesday, depending on the terms of their work schedules.