Renton teachers union files labor complaint against district

The REA claims district is failing to address health and safety guidelines; district says it continues to work with unions to provide safe and healthy environment

The Renton Education Association (REA) has filed an unfair labor complaint, stating that teachers are concerned with lack of discussion with the district on how health and safety issues for staff providing in-person instruction will be handled during the COVID pandemic.

Mary Jo McLaughlin, president of Renton Education Association, says health and safety issues continue to be “stonewalled” in bargaining until scheduling and staffing issues have been resolved.

“Nobody wants to return to classrooms as much as we do,” McLaughlin says. “What we need to carefully plan for, in collaboration with our districts, is the safest way possible to bring students back. We need to ensure that it’s safe for students, families and our own staff to return.

In a statement from Executive Director of Community Relations Randy Matheson, the district says that nothing has changed since Oct. 16, when the district announced that it would not consider providing in-person learning until at least January 2021.

“We value our employees and work to ensure the health and safety of all students and staff. We will continue to work with all of our employee partner groups to provide a safe and healthy environment,” the statement reads.

Although the district was not planning in-person hybrid options, it was considering small groups of in-person learning for early learners and students with disabilities following Department of Health guidelines.

In a press release, the REA states that a school in the district began in-person learning on Nov. 2, without offering notice to the union. Additionally, a Nov. 13 memo was sent to the the district’s union presidents, including McLaughlin, indicating the start of in-person learning for high-need students in small groups and cohorts that would require some staff onsite on Nov. 30.

The REA and district will have another bargaining session this week. The release states that the REA has a number of issues it wants to discuss in lines with in-person learning, including:

  • The creation of a joint safety committee at each building, with district appointees and elected REA members, that will work with the district COVID-19 site supervisor
  • Access to personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Training in proper protocols and use of PPE, hygiene and cleaning
  • Reporting procedures
  • Address indoor air quality issues and ventilation

Washington Education Association Communication’s Linda Woo stated in an email Nov. 23 that the focus on health and safety is not only important for teachers, but for support professionals and professional-technical staff as well.

Safety should be a shared value, and public health is a community responsibility,” McLaughlin stated.

More information on the district’s latest update for in-person learning is available here.