GTFFrally

Early GTFF rally, from the GTFF Facebook page

The first higher education strike in Oregon has ended. This morning the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) and the University of Oregon reached a tentative agreement. The GTFF posted some details on Facebook. The agreement does not go as far as the grad students would like. The main issue was providing paid sick leave for employees who do so much work for the university, but it does represent a step forward.

Graduate students handle about 1/3 of the grading at the U.O. While the GTFF was on strike, University administrators were scrambling to fill their assignments, even proclaiming that THEY would handle grading, overstepping the faculty entirely. And ignoring their own lack of expertise in the specific field being graded. A recipe for mayhem, and shoddy instruction, had it continued.

This lack of grading led to this great post that details how the vaunted Oregon Ducks football team risked not being about to participate in the national college football playoff in the Rose Bowl on January 1 due to a lack of timely grading, rending players academically ineligible to play. Would a prolonged strike lead to NCAA scrambling to adjust/waive its own rules? Probably. It would have been amusing to see the NCAA paying attention to ANY of its own rules for once.

Higher education has been exploiting graduate student labor, and part-time faculty labor, and, heck, been outright miserly with providing tenured positions for many decades. It will be interesting to watch how graduate teachers, now with a greater sense of identity and collective power, build on that success in years to come.

From the GTFF Facebook Page

From the GTFF Facebook Page

The Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF) is a few days from a potential strike against the University of Oregon. As reported by The Register Guard this morning in Eugene, mediation has failed. The strike date has been set by GTFF as December 2.

This past summer, the American Association of University Professors at Portland State University neared a strike. Rallies with several hundred supporters, especially students, took place before a deal was reached.

No public employee union in higher education has gone on strike since the collective bargaining act went into law in the mid-1970s (read our history of strikes). So, there’s reason for skepticism there will be one here. But the University of Oregon has put out the call for replacement workers/scabs to replace GTFF should there be a strike. That would lead to campus mayhem. According to the GTFF, they teach about 1/3 of all courses. The U.O. professors themselves just formed a union, and actions in support of GTFF from the faculty could be expected. And from a distance, at least in the Register-Guard, both sides seem fairly close to each other on compensation & benefits. A deal within the next few days is conceivable.

But whether there is a strike or not. the GTFF bargaining crisis points to a growing problem across higher education that’s been building for decades: reducing the number of hired faculty in favor of cheap reliance on part-time faculty, lower-level faculty, and graduate students to keep the colleges and universities running. Many of these instructors get no health benefits, no paid leave, and do not get a livable wage.

As higher education relies on graduate students and low-level faculty more and more, in lieu of providing more stable regular faculty jobs, it’s natural for graduate students and low-level faculty to realize the amount of power they have and to begin demanding fair wages, benefits, and working conditions. Whether a strike happens at the U.O. next week or not, this problem is growing and will require more attention soon on local and national levels.

The Chronicle of Higher Education: “University of Oregon Draws Criticism for Response to Threatened TA Strike

The GTFF has a Facebook Page that does a good job of putting faces and stories to the work going on, and also has a website. Its recent video featuring members “Why Am I Ready to Strike?” is worth a watch:

Bucking the Southern Oregon trend, Medford teachers ended their 11 day strike strong. Portland teachers got within two days of a strike and got a fair deal according to leaked details. What are some of the lessons to learn this February 2014?

1.) District consultants often don’t know or don’t care what they’re doing, no matter how expensive they are.
The Medford school district hired lawyer Kelly Noor, and allegedly this was her first education contract bargain, and possibly first labor bargain. Psst: it didn’t go well. BONUS: Noor is rumored to be assisting the Eugene school district in its upcoming bargain with Eugene teachers. Better luck with the second bargain! BONUS BONUS: Noor is from the same law firm as Paul Dakopolos, whose first bargain was the five-day Reynolds strike in 2012 where the employees essentially prevailed. If you’re a school district hiring from the Garrett Hemann Robertson law firm featuring Bruce Zagar, hold on to your receipt!

Yvonne Deckard, a personal friend of the Portland superintendent who got an extravagant $15,000/month no-bid contract for lousy work with little accounting for her time, dragged the Portland bargain on and on to her benefit. “What’s that, Portland? I can’t hear you over the sound of my swelling bank account!”

Medford Superintendent Phil Long talks with a striking teacher. From the Medford School District 549C Facebook Page

Medford Superintendent Phil Long talks with a striking teacher. From the Medford School District 549C Facebook Page

2.) Strategy that looks good in PowerPoint may fail in real life.
Austerity measures aren’t working nowadays in Oregon districts. Thinking teachers will accept any-old-proposal because there’s a perceived recession won’t work, especially when you’re obnoxious about it. The Portland school district had 78 contract rollbacks in its proposal. Medford came to the table with 118. They were excited. Both escalated the bargains at every possible step except for the strike votes taken by teachers. Consultants clapped their hands: This is gonna be great! Teachers will be glad to just have jobs and you can make them crawl! Board members and superintendents nod their heads and smirk: This will work! This slide on the screen written by a mediocre law firm says it will work! That’s, like, as solid as a mathematical proof! People can’t just put anything into a PowerPoint, right? There’s a vetting process, right? Awesome!

3.) If your job is representing the public, don’t hide from the public.
The Portland school board refused to participate in bargaining. Or, maybe, they paid money to be told to not participate by Deckard and went “Fine by me! What could go wrong with public school board members elected by the public refusing to represent the public interest at the public school district bargaining table?” (Add more uses of “public” in that sentence if you want.)

Not only did Portland school board member Greg Belisle allegedly take a stash of 100 pink flamingos, installed on his lawn by a business as a prank, to the dump. Belisle also setup an auto-reply to emails from the public that if they were emailing him about bargaining, he would put those messages in the trash, too!

The Medford school board canceled public meetings with the strike. Then they stopped taking phone calls and emails from the public. To its credit, though, the Medford school board did have some members on the bargaining team. Complicating matters – the school board summarily voted to dismiss their longtime superintendent earlier this school year. Superintendent Phil Long soon after announced his retirement. But, as the strike rolled on, the fractious school board with a newbie lawyer needed the superintendent to get them a deal. Awkward!

Happily for Long, this gave him an opportunity to have daily press conferences, sometimes more often than daily (surely reporters were thrilled by his persistent calls and his personal tours to schools that kept turning away parents at the door), and assemble an audition reel for whatever he wants to try to do next.

Goldschmidt1

Steve Goldschmidt agreement page 1

Medford teachers are on the tenth day of their strike. Portland teachers are six days from their potential strike. It is enlightening to set the Wayback Machine for when a main teachers villain from the 1987 Eugene teachers strike, Steve Goldschmidt (yes, Governor Neil Goldschmidt’s brother), got an outrageously sweetheart deal from the Portland Public Schools to antagonize the Portland teachers union. Much like Yvonne Deckard’s $15,000/month no-bid contract deal to do the same now for being friends with Superintendent Carole Smith.

Steve Goldschmidt was the lead negotiator for the Eugene school district during its 22-day strike. When Portland was rumored to be hiring him in 2000, the Eugene teachers howled warnings to the Portland teachers. The Portland Association of Teachers protested Goldschmidt’s hiring, yet the district did it anyway. Diana Snowden, interim Portland Superintendent, wife of past Portland Mayor and past Oregon Governor (and soon-to-be exposed for having sex with his 14 year-old babysitter) Neil Goldschmidt, paved the way.

Goldschmidt2

Steve Goldschmidt agreement page 2, even wilder than page 1

Hiring a brother-in-law of a highly placed administrator (as PPS did this year hiring Donny Adair as a consultant, bother-in-law to Executive Director of School & Operations Support Harriet Adair), who is also the brother of a former Governor, is cozy, eh? Looking at the arrangement, it gets even more farcical.

New Portland Superintendent Ben Canada is the one who put his pen on the agreement with Steve Goldschmidt. Highlights of this crazy document:

  1. $132,000/year salary, with a performance bonus of $20,000 per year.
  2. PERS retirement, early retirement, all other administrator benefits, annual physical.
  3. Annuity payment of $1,500 per month in program of his choice.
  4. Can be terminated only for moral turpitude or gross neglect of duty.
  5. Termination must have six months notice, with a guarantee of full salary & benefits for six months whether the district has him work during that time or not.
  6. After termination, district will pay him an additional 18 months worth of all financial benefits for doing no work whatsoever.
  7. Legal protection for all work done on behalf of the school district.
  8. Can engage in as much outside work as he wants provided it does not present a conflict of interest with District obligations or use proprietary District information.
  9. Due to his living in Eugene, District will provide him with a leased car for 24 months and a $2,000/month Portland housing allowance for 6 months, and moving costs & closing costs for selling the Eugene home. After 6 months, if the Eugene house does not sell the district will continue the Portland housing allowance.
  10. His consulting gig preceding this contract will pay $86,500 for four months work.

Sweet deal! That last point leads to an annual salary rate of $259,500. This deal happened in the middle of a wave of golden parachute deals that marked the Ben Canada era (including for Ben Canada himself).

Back in 2001, and now, it literally pays, and pays well, to have friends & family in high places at Portland Public Schools.

ImageDon’t know where the graph below is from, or if it’s accurate, but if true it points to the Portland school district struggling to meet its promises again, this time on bringing in teachers over the past year. Combining this with its recent hamhanded bullying of subs & hiring for replacement teachers off Craigslist, Portland Public Schools is reminiscent of the White Queen in Through the Looking Glass. Solutions tomorrow, solutions yesterday, but never a solution today—

“I’m sure I’ll take you with pleasure!” the Queen said. “Twopence a week, and jam every other day.”

Alice couldn’t help laughing, as she said “I don’t want you to hire me—and I don’t care for jam.”

“It’s very good jam,” said the Queen.

“Well, I don’t want any to-day, at any rate.”

“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is jam to-morrow and jam yesterday—but never jam to-day.”

“It must come sometimes to ‘jam to-day,'” Alice objected.

“No, it ca’n’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”

“I don’t understand you,” said Alice. “It’s dreadfully confusing!”

“That’s the effect of living backwards,” the Queen said kindly: “it always makes one a little giddy at first—”

PPS-Hiring

Medford Strike HQ, from the Medford teacher union Facebook Page

Medford Strike HQ, from the Medford teacher union Facebook Page

Medford teachers will go on strike tomorrow. Portland teachers voted tonight to potentially strike on February 20. Other than these strike votes, the districts have been ratcheting things up all the way. Common themes in district behaviors:

Neither Medford nor Portland have been on strike before (our list of Oregon education strikes).

# of initial contract “rollbacks” (contract takeaways) proposed at the start by the districts:
Medford School District (MSD): 118
Portland Public Schools (PPS): 78
Both numbers are unusually high.

MSD declared an end to 150 days of direct bargaining.
PPS declared an end to 150 days of direct bargaining.
150 days is the mandated minimum. Direct bargaining could have continued.

MSD demanded a state mediator.
PPS demanded a state mediator.

MSD declared impasse after 15 days of mediation.
PPS declared impasse after 15 days of mediation.
15 days is the mandated minimum. Mediation could have continued without declaring impasse.

A declaration of impasse means a both parties must submit a final “best offer” and a cost estimate for that offer within seven days. MSD and PPS pushed for this “best offer” stage.

After the “best offers” are submitted, there is a 30-day cooling off period. After that cooling off, if an agreement is not reached, the employer may implement its proposal as if it is the new contract. The union’s option after a cooling off period is to declare a strike. Neither the employer nor the union need to implement or declare a strike. Bargaining can continue.

If any of the above escalation steps by the districts had not happened, Medford and Portland would not be looking at strikes. Bargaining would still be going on. Students, families, and communities would be curious (or more likely blissfully ignorant) about bargaining. Now both Medford and Portland families are scrambling around to figure out what may be happening next.

Yet, in both districts, finances are basically stable. Portland has actually taken in an additional $20 million in unexpected revenue. So, what’s the holdup to getting a deal?

Better ask the Medford and Portland school districts. They apparently have a plan. Everyone else is just living in it.

GREAT OPPORTUNITY! Districts facing a strike usually trumpet to potential replacement workers. MAKE SUPER-DUPER MONEY! MAKE NEW FRIENDS! BECOME A HERO TO A CITY FULL OF PARENTS AND FAMILIES IN A TIME OF DURESS!

Letter from HR Director Sean Murray promising big bucks and good times for scabbing.

Letter from HR Director Sean Murray promising big bucks and good times for scabbing.

Facing a potential strike (though now a grown-up for the district is finally at the table instead of middle managers), Portland Public Schools has been trying to harvest replacement teachers. How? Promises of BIG BUCKS and, less smoove-ly, trying to tell Portland subs that the healthcare benefits they so treasure for themselves and family may STOP if they don’t and … YOU MAY NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN!

In a complaint reported on by  Oregonlive.com, Senior PPS HR administrator Patty Blanchard has told Portland subs:

Substitutes who decline to work during a lawful teacher strike are voluntarily limiting themselves to less than fully available, thus putting their eligibility for District-paid insurance coverage the following year at risk

Additionally, a district spokeswoman told KATU that subs who go on strike would be deleted from the district’s database.

Why, who wouldn’t find that a charming sales pitch? WOW! I can be a hero to my community, all about the kids,  and appease the district acting at me like a hostage taker? Cool!

Two big problems for the district here:

1.) Subs can refuse any request to work. Just because they get a phone call or an email about an opening does not oblige them to jump in and fill it.

2.) Subs in Portland Public Schools actually have their own contract that lets them choose to not have to work in the event of a strike. Article 7 E reads (p. 16):

a substitute on either list [master substitute list or restricted substitute list] may remove himself/herself from further assignment during a period of a lawful work stoppage by regular teachers by notifying the District in writing.

BeatingsCatDistricts must be fiscally responsible. As the employer, allowing the work stoppage of a strike to shut things down usually increases public pressure on the district. Districts naturally work to find ways to keep doors open to compel the striking workers into feeling more disposable and thus more amenable to making concessions at the bargaining table. See? Schools work just fine without you! Be lucky you may still have a job after you guys sign this new contract with more things that we want.

There’s doing the usual district thing and tenderizing employees, and then there’s threatening them in ways that not only break standard practice, but existing employee contracts. An unfair labor practice has been filed against PPS for these actions against the substitutes. Will it hold? Tough to say, but the sub contract language above is pretty clear.

But, why let contracts get in the way of PPS? Paying attention to good strategy and sensible policy does not help $15,000/month PPS consultant Yvonne Deckard prolong this bargain needlessly (except for her needs, and she’s personal friends with the superintendent). While district finances are stable (though still underfunded) – heck, the district recently realized another $20 million dollars in unexpected tax revenue – why use THAT to get a sensible deal for all parties? Indeed, wrapping this up and ratcheting down the tension in Oregon’s largest city will not help Yvonne Deckard get paid! Deckard boasts she can break the union to make a name for herself and by gosh, she’s going to do it. So, cram it, Portland!

Corporate lickspittle, union-basher, and CEO of Stand for Children Jonah Edelman

Corporate lickspittle, union-basher, and CEO of Stand for Children Jonah Edelman

Yet, the district’s ongoing missteps in understanding its own employee contracts and bargaining itself may point to more garbage advice than just one person. Bad legal in-house legal counsel? More consulting firms? Oregon School Boards Association? Confederation of Oregon School Administrators? Education amateurs in Portland Business Association or Oregon Business Association? The corporate-funded Stand for Children that brought about the Chicago teachers strike? Are right-wing trolls in online forums now running the district?

Despite the district’s stumbling attempts at villainy, KATU shows that these two substitute teachers aren’t falling for it.

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