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Tacoma judge wants names of teachers who defied order to end strike

By Patrick Oppmann, CNN
  • Judge on Wedneday ordered Tacoma School District teachers to end strike
  • "Order is legitimate," but there is no compliance, judge says in Friday hearing
  • Union and school district have been locked in bitter contract negotiations
  • 28,000 students in Tacoma have been out of school since Tuesday

Tacoma, Washington (CNN) -- A judge Friday said striking teachers were violating his earlier order to halt their protests, but he did not penalize the educators.

Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff said he could still decide to fine the union the striking teachers' belong to, and he ordered an attorney for the Tacoma School District to provide him the names of all the teachers who failed to show up for work after he ordered them Wednesday to return to the classroom.

"The order is legitimate, the question is, are we in compliance? It doesn't look like it," Chushcoff told an overflowing courtroom. He told attorneys for the teacher's union and school district to keep negotiating and said that if the strikes continue, he might take action during a hearing scheduled for September 27.

The union and school district have been locked in bitter contract negotiations over a proposed pay cut, class sizes and the issue of how teachers are transferred within the school system. About 2,000 teachers went on strike Tuesday, leaving about 28,000 students in Tacoma with no schools to attend.

Following Chushcoff's order on Wednesday that the teachers return to the classroom, school administrators announced that school would resume Thursday. But teachers did not show up for school that day, forcing administrators to again cancel classes.

Thursday afternoon, the union voted to continue the strike.

"The membership did what the membership does, they decided what they wanted to do," said Tyler Firkins, the attorney for the union, during Friday's court proceedings. Firkins said that although he represents the union, the members acted independently.

"t sounds a little like you are representing a phantom organization," Judge Chushcoff replied.

Shannon McMinimee, the attorney for the school district, said the union can control its members and called on the judge to fine the organization for continuing the strike.

"It's beginning to turn into a game," McMinimee said. "The district wouldn't be bargaining with them if they didn't have the ability to control their members."

McMinimee said school administrators anticipate teachers will continue striking.

Chushcoff instructed the attorneys to produce a list of the striking teachers and financial records for the union at the next hearing, hinting that he could issue fines for the continuing protests. In the meantime, he urged both sides to resolve the dispute through negotiations.

"The biggest thing that troubles me about this is that we are here at all," the judge said. "I am hearing awful things being said about teachers. I am hearing awful things being said about the district. I find this very distressing."

At a rally before the hearing, teachers and students gathered in front of the district administration building to voice support for the strike. "We are not the problem if your child spends the entire day with an Xbox and has never read an entire book," one woman -- who said she was a teacher -- told the applauding crowd.

"It has been difficult," high school senior Gracia Smith said, "But when 90 percent of teachers have voted to keep the strike going, there's something at stake here."

A message posted on the school district's website Friday afternoon said school was canceled Monday due to the strike.