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, 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.