Longview school teachers begin picketing after voting to strike immediately.

Longview school teachers begin picketing after voting to strike immediately.

Longview Education Association

Teachers in Longview are officially on the picket line.

The Longview Education Association rejected the district’s offer for a 6.9 percent average pay raise and voted to strike Wednesday night.

The union is pushing for an 11 percent increase, something the district says it can’t afford.

“We would have to use reserves to balance the budget and potentially take some cost-cutting maneuvers,” said district spokesman Rick Parrish.

Like almost every other district in Washington this year, Longview is negotiating new teacher salaries, after lawmakers sent down an additional $1 billion to fix problems in school funding identified in the landmark McCleary court case.

Unlike other districts in Southwest Washington, Longview teachers are not waiting until the first day of school to strike. Instead, teachers were already waving signs Thursday morning.

“We’re all out on the picket line,” said Ray Clift, president of the Longview Education Association. He said teachers have spent the past few days picketing outside the superintendent’s office, sometimes alongside students.

“The strike is open to everybody,” he said.

Clift and his members believe that by starting the strike now, before classes begin, the union puts additional pressure on district leaders to negotiate.

“I hope they understood that we are trying to keep this away from students as much as we can,” Clift said. “But it’s up to them if they want to continue into the school year and not settle with us.”

While school hasn’t started yet, going on strike now means teachers will miss a handful of work days they typically use to prepare for class.

The union and the district will return to the bargaining table on Monday, just two days before students arrive.