Kent transport

Kent School District could face strike by janitors and maintenance workers

A union of nearly 200 janitors and maintenance workers has voted to strike Kent School District (KSD) if a new contract agreement cannot be reached.

As with the striking teachers, district leaders have yet to agree terms with the Washington American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union, which represents custodial workers, janitors and several other positions.

“The AFT held a union meeting last Saturday (September 3) where we held a vote of intention to strike based on how we are treated at the bargaining table,” said Darren Garrett, ranked chairman of AFT Kent, in a Sept. 6 email. “The vote was unanimous for all participants as well as the vote of no confidence on the board of directors and the superintendent.”

Like the teachers’ union, the AFT voted against the Kent School Board and Superintendent Israel Vela. The teachers have been on strike since August 25 as negotiations with the district continue.

“Neither the school board nor the superintendent has expressed interest in having the KSD bargaining team meet and negotiate in good faith,” Garrett said. “In fact, our union members (who work in administration) saw the school board and superintendent laughing and joking before and after board meetings. They don’t take any of the bargaining groups seriously.

The Kent Reporter emailed several questions to the Kent School District seeking comment on the AFT contract and the potential strike.

“The district cannot comment on these ongoing negotiations at this time,” according to a Sept. 6 email from a district spokesperson.

In addition to caretakers and maintenance workers, the union also includes gardeners, food service drivers, distribution drivers, print shop operators and bus mechanics.

“We have notified the district if they give us a few dates for negotiations before our arbitration date (September 19) and if they show a good faith effort to move forward, we will rescind the arbitration,” he said. said Garrett. “But if they backed off, we would go forward to strike and get out.”

Trading dates are set for September 13, 15 and 16.

“The school district tried to divide us into skilled and unskilled employees,” Garrett said. “The state offered us 5.5% (wage increase) but KSD came back with 2% for what they called the skilled and 1% for the unskilled. We asked to be paid minimum with the surrounding school districts, but we should be paid in the top three as Kent is the third largest school district on the west side of the Cascades and this has been a past practice for 35 years. I worked here.”

A Head Guard III earns $30.41 per hour, per the AFT contract for 2021-22 with KSD. A head guard II earns $28.48 per hour and a head guard I earns $26.54. The higher pay is for overseeing more square footage and more employees. A guard’s base salary is $23.34 per hour.

Hourly wages for other positions include $36.47 or $30.33 for a transport mechanic; $27.36 for a food service driver; and $28.49 for a head gardener.

The pay is about 14% lower than neighboring school districts, Garrett said.

“We started trading with KSD last spring,” Garrett said. “In all fairness, we should have been done by July at the latest, but KSD kept blocking us, telling us they had other negotiating groups they should negotiate with after us.”

The district has not yet entered into contractual agreements with clerical and information technology employees.

“The union is hopeful, but not holding its breath after seeing how KSD is currently treating other bargaining groups in negotiations,” Garrett said of reaching a non-strike contract deal.

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