Alaska teachers demand dignity

October 8, 2018

Valerie Brooks, a teacher in Ketchikan, Alaska, describes the mounting frustrations of teachers across the state.

The rolling red tide of teacher actions, mobilizations and strikes across the U.S. has reached Alaska.

Public-school educators are turning to their local union associations for results in collective bargaining. Anchorage Education Association (AEA) has mediation scheduled between the Anchorage School District and AEA’s 3,000 certified members working toward a fair contract.

The staff at Mount Edgecombe High School (MEHS) in Sitka has now started two school years without a contract. Mount Edgecombe is a residential school with a student body that’s 80 percent Alaska Native students. It provides academic and sports experiences that may not be available in small villages throughout the state.

Strike captain training has taken place in Ketchikan for MEHS staff and in Anchorage. Both Anchorage and Mount Edgecombe union members are stepping up direct actions. Teachers are frustrated by the costs of insurance premiums as well as the lowball offers districts are making to certified union members even when sufficient funds are on hand.

Teachers rally for a fair contract in Ketchikan, Alaska
Teachers rally for a fair contract in Ketchikan, Alaska (Ketchikan Education Association | Facebook)

The 170 teachers in Ketchikan, in Southeast Alaska’s panhandle, have begun a second year without a contract. Teachers are angry that the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District (KGBSD) last year gave back more than $800,000 in funding to the borough, and they are frustrated by the district’s refusal to bargain over insurance costs and cost-of-living increases. The last cost-of-living increase for Ketchikan teachers was in 2010.

Among Alaska teachers, Ketchikan teachers rank 29th for base pay and last in district contribution to the cost of insurance. Predictably, the school district is insisting that giving teachers a cost-of-living raise will mean increased taxes or loss of school programs. Yet, the district has spent $30,000 and budgeted another $75,000 to hire an Anchorage lawyer to continue its practice of stalling negotiations.

Teachers in Ketchikan went on strike in 1999. After that three-day strike, teachers got a 6 percent increase during the three-year contract. Those of us who participated in that strike are feeling the same frustration with the district that we felt then.

Teachers new to the district know the history of the union in our town and have been energized, standing in solidarity at rallies before and after school, at a busy intersection on Saturday mornings, and at school board meetings. These actions have intensified the determination of Ketchikan Education Association union members to get a fair contract.

Teachers are asking for balanced class sizes, improvements in school safety conditions, and competitive salaries and benefits. While we remain willing to negotiate, we won’t be patient much longer.

The stalling and the refusal to meet teachers’ demands may soon result in a #RedforEd wave of strikes in Ketchikan and other Alaskan communities.

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