The Medford teachers have voted for a strike (but have not yet set a date), the potential of a strike looms in Portland, and the community of Warrenton has an escalating bargaining crisis.

Oregonlive.com (do we call it The Oregonian anymore? is it a newspaper anymore?) takes a look at what Oregon districts had to do during various strikes in 2012 in its story “What would a Portland teachers strike look like?

Short answer: you’ll have to close for a few days and then… it’s all up in the air.

Three strikes happened in 2012: Reynolds, Gresham-Barlow, and Eagle Point. Statements from the first two districts in the story are mild. The comments from Eagle Point Superintendent Cynda Rickert are disingenuous: “Until the last minute, we also believed we wouldn’t have a strike.” Yeah, uhm, no. Rickert was very much gunning for a strike, behaving much like the Portland school district’s $15,000/month “consultant” Yvonne Deckard who has been dragging out the Portland bargain and gunning for the Portland Association of Teachers to make a name for herself as a union buster and charge her next client even more. And Deckard is personal friends with superintendent Carole Smith through Open Meadow school, Smith’s previous job. Cozy, eh?

Things Rickert and her administrators did that escalated tensions up to a strike:

  1. Telling educators on disability they must cross the picket line and return for ‘light duty’ or else lose their disability.
  2. Using Craigslist to offer more than normal sub pay for replacements to work 5 hour shifts.
  3. Asking teachers to write 10 days worth of lesson plans before they check out for the strike. Without getting time to plan their lessons anyway.
  4. Days before the strike date, asking every employee to check out and to take personal belongings home, turn in keys, and computers. Some told to turn in their textbooks as well. All this instead of putting its energy into bargaining seriously.
  5. Principals polling individual educators about their plans to strike or not, attempting to coerce employees into not striking.
  6. Telling educators they may not speak to parents or students about bargaining issues at all, any location or time, not just as school.
  7. Claiming publicly to be willing to meet to continue bargaining with educators, but consistently refusing to meet beyond the mandates of the limited availability of the state mediator.

Thankfully, aside from Deckard, things have not escalated to that level of absurdity in Portland. The superintendent, finally, is sitting at the table instead of leaving district bargaining to middle managers without the power to get a deal. Unfortunately, $15,000/month Deckard is still dragging things out instead of getting booted for lousy advice.

Medford, though, has escalated. Medford teachers have voted to strike with a 95% approval rate. They have filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against the district (literally, making a federal case out of it). Where Portland Board members have been absent and lazy, the Medford school district has been antagonistic.

The Gresham-Barlow strike only lasted three hours because community and student support for the teachers was strong. The superintendent’s home was picketed, too, which caused a family member to become distressed (people out of work = no big deal, but when folks see people on their sidewalk THEN it gets real), then that person made a phone call to the superintendent, and a fair deal was reached quickly. There was a reasonable cast of characters on both sides of the table in Gresham-Barlow.

FlamingosOn the topic of breaking into personal space: three Portland school board members had their lawns “flocked” by a business that puts 100 pink flamingos on a lawn with messages like “settle the flocking contract”. Two board members took it in stride (must have been a jarring thing to see) and contacted the business to retrieve its flamingos (business contact info was on the flamingos). One board member, Greg Belisle, discarded the flamingos. Presumably taking them to the dump. Oh, our kingdom for a photo of Belisle toting an armful of pink flamingos to the garbage!

Reynolds had a few tea party nutbags and low-rent failed politicos on the school board who wanted to take the teachers down. They failed. Reynolds teachers got a better contract than was on the table before the strike, and the tea party/sad-sack politician board members got crow.

How should Portland avoid a strike? Get rid of Deckard who only benefits the longer this escalates. She is a pal of the superintendent, of no value, and cratering public trust and relations for the school district. Keep the superintendent at the table so the grown-ups can talk. Add some board members whose purpose is to represent the public interest.

How should Medford avoid a strike? Stop acting like Eagle Point. Respect your educators and realize you will have to work with these same people for years. The lawyer whispering in your ear that you will get everything you want (dreamy! tell me more, you smooth-talker, you!) will evaporate after the bargain wraps up. You will have to live with the aftermath and shattered morale.

Portland & Medford – you’ve got the brains and resources. Get a fair deal. Don’t join the list of Oregon education strikes on this website.

Eagle Point students walking out of class to support their teachers on the picket line: