Educators


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:

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

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:

Portland teachers have never been on strike. Surprised? The district hasn’t lacked for rancor. As Oregon’s largest district it is often at the forefront of special education issues, grief over Race-To-The-Top and whatever else flavor-of-the-day “reform” is going on, union-bashing and contract meddling by corporate-owned Stand for Children (a huge factor in the Chicago teachers strike last year). Ten years ago Portland schools made for weeks’ worth of Doonesbury cartoon strips. That same year teachers agreed to give up 10 days of pay in order to help the district meet a budget shortfall.

But what about today?

The Portland Public Schools district started this bargaining session with 78 contract rollbacks, hiring multiple expensive consultants (starting at $180,000) to help them with the bargain with teachers. It has used its normal email newsletters to parents to send long screeds bashing the union and pretending to be victims beholden to a contract the district had co-authored over the last 30-40 years.

Now it has reduced the number of rollbacks to 61 or so, pretending that cutting a list of crazy stuff from 78 to 61 means it is being totally serious, you guys, about bargaining!

ImageMeanwhile, no school board members represent the district at the bargaining table. The H.R. director isn’t at the bargaining table. The superintendent isn’t there, either, but it’s typical for a superintendent to keep her/his distance during bargaining, all the better to swoop in and save the day when things get hot (like during the Reynolds and Gresham-Barlow strikes in spring 2012).

The district does not have anyone at the bargaining table capable of making a deal. The district’s lead bargainer at the table is clearly not able to act on the fly, and beholden to whomever is giving him marching orders and their convoluted strategy. Who is the puppetmaster? H.R. Director Sean Murray? High-priced consultant Yvonne Deckard?

It feels like the district is marking time to get to implementation and/or a strike as soon as possible. One speculates the district’s advisors are saying: “We can win this. The teachers will cave. Keep dragging this out. And, oh, by the way, dragging this out means you need to pay me more money.”

The bonus comedy in this rabbit hole? District finances are okay. That’s a good thing. Schools are underfunded, but the district is not in dire financial distress yet is going after a whole bunch of working conditions stuff just because it wants to.

As the pressure increases, will the public side with the teachers they trust every day, or with central office administrators, board members, and consultants plainly checked out of the bargaining process?

In Eagle Point, a city official, board members, and administrators were trying to guess who was posting about them. They assumed it was someone in their ranks.

Gresham-Barlow administrators were playing the same guessing game about who the blogger was in their midst. One of the people holding up a sign making grouchy faces at them during board meetings? A person they pass by in the grocery store? A fellow board member who dresses in costume before sitting at the computer?

Reynolds school board members make stuff up online and try to browbeat confessions (resembling Eric Idle’s “ya know what I mean, eh?” Monty Python character)  to figure out who in Reynolds has been posting this entire blog.

It’s revealing about human nature that all these people across the state (we note Parkrose is NOT obsessed in this way – must be more well-adjusted there) think it’s someone in THEIR community, perhaps someone THEY KNOW. Their focus is on not reflecting on their own ill deeds, but to root out a conspiracy.

Vanity makes these people lose track of the variety of geography these few posts have taken on. They lose track of just how small this corner of the internet is.

The answer(s) is/are truly boring. But externalizing personal bad behavior into some conspiracy is easier and more self-aggrandizing than trying to learn to not be such a jerk in the future.

Oregon educators who belong to unions should be proud of how things played out this spring. They fought against a coordinated strategy by districts to use financial factors as an excuse to overreach and attack contract protections. Facing tight financial budgets(ish) (except in Reynolds) ALL ended up with stronger contracts and better public support and a sense of collective power.

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