COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

COURTESY PHOTO, Kent School District

Office workers facing contract talk struggles with Kent School District

Union running into similar issues as teachers while bargaining with district negotiators

Teachers aren’t the only employees in the Kent School District unable to reach a new contract agreement.

The Kent Association of Educational Office Professionals (KAEOP), similar to the Kent Education Association (KEA) teachers’ union, is in mediation with district negotiators after failing to agree on a new pact despite the contract expiring Aug. 31 and school scheduled to start Thursday, Aug. 25.

“KAEOP has been in talks with the district since late May this year and it became apparent after five comprehensive bargaining sessions we were getting nowhere,” said Valerie Lupi-Karlsson, part of the KAEOP bargaining team, in an Aug. 23 email to the Kent Reporter. “Therefore we opted to pursue mediation through PERC (the state Public Employment Relations Commission).”

The union represents about 350 employees. The positions include playground supervision, crossing guards, attendance reporting, health techs, Associated Student Body (ASB) bookkeepers, athletics coordinators, data processors, registrars and office managers.

“We are office professionals who are the backbone of any building,” Lupi-Karlsson said. “We are the first voice on the other end of the phone, the first face parents and students see when they interact with the district and the people who the children and families of Kent come to know and trust.”

Similar to the teachers’ union, Lupi-Karlsson said district negotiators have been difficult to work with.

“Our current contract expires Aug. 31 and to date the district has shown neither willingness nor interest to engage with us via a mediator,” said Lupi-Karlsson as the union had to file a mediator request in order to bring a mediator in. “We offered eight full days of availability in August in hopes of getting a contract done before school started but were flatly told by district ‘there was absolutely zero availability in the entire month of August to meet with us.’”

When asked by the Kent Reporter for a response to the union’s statements, a district spokesperson declined to answer specific questions and referred the newspaper to a district website link that mentions the KEA negotiations but nothing about office workers.

“This lack of respect for our union and the work we do in a daily basis for the almost 24,000 students and families of the Kent community is quite frankly appalling to us,” Lupi-Karlsson said.

The primary issues are workplace safety and fair compensation, Lupi-Karlsson said.

“We will be discussing with our members our options and decide our next steps,” she said.

Union representatives, wearing blue, will be at the Kent School Board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 24 to make their voices heard. Members of the teachers’ union, wearing red, also plan to attend the meeting.

District negotiators also have failed to reach contract agreements with the American Federation of Teachers Union of Washington (AFT) Maintenance & Custodial Staff union and a new Information Technology (IT) workers union.

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