Judge fines striking Kelso teachers $2K per day

Teachers won't have to pay if they end strike

KELSO, Wash. (KOIN) — Judge David Koss on Friday fined the Kelso teacher’s union $2,000 a day if they continue striking, in contempt of court.

The strike on Friday entered its eighth day and the judge gave the teachers until 4:30 p.m. to decide if they will return to work or pay the fine. If they do return to work, they will not have to pay any fines, but if they don’t, the fine will be paid starting Friday morning.

Before the court proceedings began, teachers gathered on a bridge just north of the Cowlitz County Courthouse in a show of solidarity.

Once in court, union president Sharon Dolan and another teacher negotiator were called to the witness stand. Their attorney hoped to convince the judge the district is being unreasonable and unfair at the bargaining table.

“We just felt like we needed to have a fair contract and we feel that the district is not bargaining in good faith with us,” said Kelso teachers spokesperson Sandy DeBruler.

But in the end, Judge David Koss said, “The court is imposing a remedial or coercive penalty,” found them in contempt and fined them $2,000 a day if they don’t go back to work.

“The goal, the hope of the court is that none of it will ever have to be paid because the teachers will now go back to work,” Koss said.

Negotiators for teachers and the Kelso School District remain at odds over a contract agreement. A new round of negotiations began at 2 p.m. Friday.

On Wednesday, teachers voted to stay on strike in defiance of a court order telling them to go back to school. Instead of picketing, they performed community service, picking up trash and holding food drives with students.

Teachers and other educators had been working without a contract in Kelso since June 30.

Kelso teacher and negotiator Pat Hymes said, “Both sides have been fairly rigid in their stance, but like I was saying there has been some progress. Maybe this’ll be on of those things that we can get this thing done and get our kids back in school.”

Kelso School District serves more than 4,500 students. Kelso Education Association represents some 300 teachers and other certificated educators.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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