Issaquah School District’s looming strike is a teaching moment about arbitration language in employment contracts



Troy Hunter, Pacific ADR mediator/arbitrator and an attorney in Issaquah who has two granddaughters in local schools, is closely watching the strike authorized earlier this week by the unions representing office professionals and paraeducators working in the Issaquah School District.

“Collective bargaining agreements, like the one the administrative and paraprofessional employees of the Issaquah School District are subject to, usually include step-by-step procedures for addressing these kinds of disputes,” said Hunter.

According to the school district, the contract requires the dispute to be heard by an arbitrator.

These clauses are written into contracts to help both parties resolve differences effectively, more quickly, and less expensively than protracted litigation.

Hunter continued, “Strikes may get a lot of public attention and emotional support, but they’re generally an ineffective way of achieving change in the outcome when the parties ultimately present their respective positions to a neutral arbitrator.”

For the arbitrator, contract interpretation is about following the law and precedent in an effort to arrive at the parties’ mutual intention when first agreeing to the contract. Both parties have significant interests in the outcome of the negotiation, and/or the arbitrator’s determination of the contract’s purpose and intent. When you have strong competing interests, emotions can run high.

“The job of the neutral arbitrator in this highly charged setting is to hear and analyze the parties’ arguments and competing interests and apply the terms of the contract and the law in reaching a final determination as to the outcome of the dispute,” Hunter said. 

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