Oregon is not necessarily a prolific state when it comes to teacher strikes — which is a good thing. For the most part, the Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) has fulfilled its stated purpose of promoting the “development of cooperative and harmonious relationships between government and its employees.” In fact, other states that actually prohibit strikes like Washington have seen more teacher strikes in recent years than Oregon. There are a variety of factors that have led to resolution of contract disputes in lieu of strikes, but one of the key factors that cannot be overlooked: more often than not, representatives on both sides knew how to get a deal done.  During the 70s, 80s, and 90s there were some harsh, bitter negotiations, but in the end, a lot of those potential strikes ended in resolutions because the bargainers at the table knew how to cut the deal.

Fast forward to today and we have a change of scene.  Many of the baby boomer bargainers have retired, especially on the management side, and in their place we have a lot of 40 to early 50-something administrators who have been in management for 5 years or less and have no idea what a bargaining crisis even looks like.  They have no connection to the early days of collective bargaining.  The better part of their professional careers has been spent in a bubble.  They don’t know how to resolve a real crisis because they have never seen a real crisis.

Jim Schlachter

You combine this lack of experience with an unrefined desire for popularity and you get managers like Gresham-Barlow’s current Superintendent Jim Schlachter.  Schlachter is trying to fulfill a popular management dream nowadays.  He wants to be the one who “stands up” to the union.  Schlachter has used the common rhetoric of combating “unsustainable” contracts from the initial proposal stage of the current bargain in Gresham-Barlow. He has said, quite directly, that he would be the man to do the combat.  These are bold statements for a man who has never been in charge of a contract bargain before — bold and ignorant.  “I want my way and I want it now” might work for kindergarteners, but it rarely pans out in the politics of grown-up negotiations, especially when bargainers on the employee side actually want to cut a deal.

So what we have now is a strike close to one week away: the first teacher strike in Oregon in six and a half years. We have a union side that has conceded on the district’s monetary demands — demands that they don’t like conceding, but would have probably made all along to protect the integrity of their instructional programs.

But surprise, surprise, the union is not going to sell the rest of their contract down the river just because Jim Schlachter wants them to.  In fact, they are going to continue to expect reciprocity on issues like safety protections and preparation time because this is what Gresham-Barlow teachers want and after all — this is not rocket science here — they are represented by a union that is charged with advocating for what their members want.

Strikes should not be replacement experiences for real management bargaining training.  These are tense negotiations, and it is no time for Jim Schlachter to learn on the job. It just might be that the Gresham-Barlow School Board needs to go out and find a retired baby boomer superintendent who actually remembers how to cut a deal.  It seems that Jim Schlachter needs mentoring.