Teachers form own union

WATERVILLE — Teachers here have cut ties to state and national labor unions to form a local educators group that they say will bring better relations between teachers and local civic and school district officials.

The new Waterville Teachers Leadership Council, which includes nearly all of the 22 teachers in the local district, received state certification Friday after more than a year of effort to dissolve the local chapter of the Washington Education Association.

“We’re excited to move forward,” said Justin Grillo, a third-grade teacher and a WTLC organizer. “We’ve finally escaped the WEA after a year of trying to declare our independence.”

Grillo said members of the new group hope to distance themselves from the state and national groups’ broader political tactics and agendas and the high costs of union membership dues.

In coming months, he said, the group will work out organizing details that include the election of officers, collaboration among staff and district leaders, establishing local scholarship funds and maybe even planning holiday parties.

“We’ll be working together on all kinds of tasks, both for the schools and the community,” Grillo said.

An estimated 20 of the 22 teachers in the district will join the WTLC, said Grillo. The other two will likely retain membership in the WEA.

The new group will also enlist with Northwest Professional Educators, a non-union, nonpartisan association that serves 1,300 educators in Washington, Oregon and Idaho. With NWPE’s help, Waterville teachers will form their own local bargaining unit to negotiate wages and benefits with local administrators. NWPE could provide legal services to guide local teachers, but would not take part in actual negotiations.

In November 2011, Waterville teachers petitioned the WEA to decertify their local chapter and then in August voted to form a new bargaining association. The WEA then filed a motion to dismiss the Waterville teachers’ petition for not following proper notification procedures.

In October, the state’s Public Employment Relations Commission denied the WEA’s motion, which allowed the teachers’ original petition to move toward certification on Friday.

Waterville is the third district in the state to create a local, teacher-represented association, Districts in Sprague and St. John also have such bargaining units.

Forming a local teacher association “provides more freedom and respect for teachers,” said Cindy Omlin, NWPE executive director in Spokane. “It puts their careers in their own hands.”

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