Students


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.

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:

Eagle Point educators, both certified and classified staff, are still on strike. The district continues to behave dishonorably, hiring bus drivers who break the law (as captured on video), avoiding coming to the bargaining table determined to starve out their employees (quality service to students be damned), intimidating employees and students (see video below), and preparing to open sham classrooms with babysitters early next week.

The Eagle Point community deserves better behavior from their district. People now see students getting disrespected by the district in the same ways the district has disrespected their employees for months.

The district is luring replacement educators with bonuses to cross the picket line. Paying for hotel rooms and buses (doesn’t that get expensive?) from as far away as Portland. Most educators are saying no, and are heroes for doing so.

Times are tough, and slipping in to get some money while waving the “For the Kids!” flag may seem like a good idea, but that’s wrong.

By benefiting from the working conditions decades of union educators have fought for — while current educators are out putting their careers and families at risk — to cross the picket line drags everyone down in a race to the bottom.

Good contracts are not granted, they are fought for. Union educators in Oregon have fought for good benefits and working conditions for generations, sacrificing their own income and putting their careers on the line to build fair contracts and learning conditions for students.

Employers did not automatically grant child labor laws, worker safety protections, weekends, 40-hour workweeks, pensions, health care benefits, living wages. The labor movement, employees standing together, established all of those things.

Whether accepting a bonus of $10,000 or 30 pieces of silver, money is temporary. A reputation for having helped your brave colleagues on the picket line, or violating their union picket line for a quick money grab to hit their careers and families, is something they will remember forever.

School board members are essential to making a school district run and accountable to the interests of the public.

Being a school board member is a volunteer gig. The hours can be long and always in addition to the responsibilities of other jobs or occupations, family, friends. It’s a labor of love driven by a sense of mission for a good, quality public education system.

When the days and tasks seem too long and unrewarding, stop by a school and see the great work done in classrooms and student services done every day. They are great places to regain a sense of purpose and inspiration. Not the school your own child or grandchild attends, but other schools in other age groups and other parts of town.

It can help with reputation and build rapport and contacts with students, educators, and volunteers and can re-energize and inform the meetings.

It is not advisable, if serving on the school board is a way station for future public offices, to attack unionized educators as overpaid. That’s a tactical error. Poll after poll shows an overwhelming majority of the public views educators as under-paid and under-appreciated. Striking an anti-educator position may earn a few atta-boys or atta-gals on the radio or among cranky online commenters, but that’s not where the voters are at.

If you keep doing that, people will notice. People will notice if your conduct changes depending on the location. Pro-educator and pro-union in one place, and anti-union and anti-educator in another. People will notice you’re not representing their interests anymore.

Read “Reynolds Recall Effort Underway” at OregonLive.com

The Oregonian's photo about the Reynolds school board recall effort

If you are an Oregon public employee, once sent an email to an Oregon public entity, even sneezed or blinked near a public library then you were probably among the 475,447 surprised souls that state Representative Dennis Richardson (R- Central Point) felt compelled to email this weekend in a fact-challenged, teacher-bashing email about striking Eagle Point educators in a legislative district far from his own.

It brought the State email servers down for two hours, slowed State websites and streaming legislative hearings to a crawl.

What was so gosh darned important for Richardson to share that he formed a one-man Occupy the Internet movement? Wisdom, folks. Like the people in the streets challenging the 1%, he just had to tell truth to power, yo. ‘Cause who’s controlling the state? Those darned teachers, duh!

He told the Salem Statesman-Journal: “I knew it was a big issue. Who will take on the teachers’ unions? Some people just don’t want to know the truth, or just don’t want to deal with it.” Thug life, represent, Richardson!

Anyone who works in schools knows that the true ills of society are those teachers who run everything! Who decided to fund the state’s own Quality Education Model (QEM) at only a 65% level? Teachers. We’d never suspect them, though, with their diminishing benefits, hours extending into evenings and the weekends because their classrooms are overcrowded. Oh, and let’s not forget losing earning power against the cost of living, and constantly paying out of their own pockets to keep their classrooms running. Only Dennis Richardson and those blessed with such penetrating perceptions see this truth!

No one would ever suspect people dedicated to a job they love, working themselves to near exhaustion for the students and purpose of public education,were secretly in control of all of their underfunded circumstances. That’s a genius plan!

It’s not as if Oregon legislators like Rep. Richardson have any control over the level of taxation in our state and the decades-long trend shifting the tax burdens onto the middle class and away from the wealthy and corporations. Other than setting the level of taxation and funding in the state.

No, no, no. It’s the job of elected state leaders like Richardson to slow down the normal functions of things, make the system FEEL the discomfort, man. Is Dennis Richardson a student of Saul Alinsky?

Rising stars in the Occupy movement like Dennis Richardson should be saluted as heroes. How DARE teachers ask for better! Haven’t all major social changes happened from people asking politely for things? Like separation from England? Giving women the vote? The civil rights movement? A 40-hour workweek? Weekends? Non-lethal work environments? An end to child labor laws? Work benefits? Just ask nicely, people, and things will be granted to you without needing to get all uppity or ask questions!

If you have questions for Rep. Dennis Richardson, email him at: Rep.DennisRichardson@state.or.us

You can also call Richardson (unless he’s engaged in a new Occupy the Phones movement in the Capitol): 503-986-1404.

Districts across the state seem to draw from the same playbook in using a budget shortfall, whether real or not (we’re looking at you, Reynolds School District!), to go after basic contract protections and rights and quality learning conditions they’ve been licking their chops over for years. Communities and parents push back, causing board members to have “public” tantrums in front of news cameras. It’s becoming a thing, as the kids say.

But Eagle Point School District is taking it further, going beyond scare tactics and bad information to bullying and illegality. Here are twelve examples on the eve of a possible May 8 strike of district attempts to attack educators, harm the community and students, and generally be lousy:

  1. Telling educators on disability they must cross the picket line and return for ‘light duty’ or else lose their disability. Does it matter that they have not been released for work by their doctors? Nope!
  2. Half-time employees are directed to work more hours or be fired. FUN FACT: if they work more hours they can join the union. Does the district mean to bully people into becoming Eagle Point education union members and making the picket lines larger? Weird strategy.
  3. A high school principal disregards student concerns about a strike, neglecting the opportunity to create a teachable moment about conflict resolution and non-violent demonstration. Frustrated and disrespected, students leave school to protest the situation, and the principal expels them. Another kind of teachable moment.
  4. Mayor has been calling businesses and asked them to stay out of the conflict (probably to make sure the principal doesn’t try to expel businesses, too).
  5. The district is using Craigslist to offer more than normal sub pay for replacements to work 5 hour shifts. Where is this magical money coming from? Isn’t Craigslist used more often for, ehm, personal connections? Don’t real educators use EdZapp instead? (EdZapp, if willing to donate $ for this free plug, let us know).
  6. Teachers are being asked to write 10 days worth of lesson plans before they check out for the strike. When they aren’t given time during the day to plan their lessons anyway. Why not only work extra time, to help replacement workers stealing their jobs? Genius!
  7. Every employee is being asked to check out and to take their personal belongings home, turn in keys, and computers. Some teachers are being asked to turn in textbooks as well. Days before the strike. The district should put their energy into bargaining seriously instead of ramping up for a strike.
  8. Security guards have been seen giving high fives to picketers (put in as a good-news item, figuring you wanted a break).
  9. Renting nearby private property for parking space, threatening to charge people parking there with trespass, and ordering security to only arrest those who look like they are “congregating”. “Racial profiling” is a common phrase, might this be “educator profiling”?
  10. Principals polling individual educators about their plans to strike or not, attempting to coerce employees into not striking. It’s been a few centuries since a good Inquisition, way to go old school! Are Eagle Point administrators certified at Wal-Mart?
  11. Telling educators they may not speak to parents or students about bargaining issues at all, any location or time, not just as school.
  12. 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.

Loyalty oaths or be fired! Ailing educators: detach the i.v. and hobble into the school or be fired! No free speech rights no matter where you go! Once the Eagle Point School District installs loudspeakers with songs of praise that proclaim the wisdom and great feats of its leaders, its transition to North Korea will be complete!

BONUS GOOD NEWS! DISTRICT SHENANIGANS BACKFIRE!

The Eagle Point School District encouraged people with concerns about a possible strike to call a provided phone number to voice their opinions. The phone number? Went to the union members of the Eagle Point Education Association. Clever.

However the union reports that over 75% of the district-directed calls have been in SUPPORT of the local educators. USA! USA! USA!

Being a Board member is not an easy gig. It’s a volunteer duty. It’s an important role. For people not using it as a stepping stone (up or down) from a political career it means a lot of work. And most Board members do very good work.

Some Board members don’t want to read about the issues. A few Board members want to make a crisis all about them. Not about the hard work and careers of hundreds of educators. Not about using available resources to ensure a quality education delivered by trained professionals to thousands of students. A few Board members want to take any opportunity to bellow online, trumpet their ignorance on camera and on the radio (often with more highly-skilled blowhards) and make a crisis all about them in a demand for attention and to shore up a rickety political career.

A few like to cover themselves in Attention Sauce and try to make us all watch. Ick.

For these few Board members — instead of dialing it in, how about paying attention to the issues? How about paying attention to the classrooms? How about understanding the demographics and lives of students in your community? How about not openly disrespecting educators and students to their faces and on camera during your Board meetings?

Bruce McCain

One of these few Board members: Bruce McCain.

A few Board members like McCain act like they’ve been jilted at some point and other people unrelated to their hurt feelings must pay the price.

Is it that Bruce McCain once represented notorious gay-bashing hate group the Oregon Citizens Alliance, a group now all but dissolved, leaving a trail of scandal?

Is it that Bruce McCain lost a political race in 2006 to Jeff Merkley?

Is it that Bruce McCain has found something new to do other than attack a person he lost an election to, after the election?

Is it that Bruce McCain lost his hoped-for union endorsement in his race in 2010?

Some Board members thrive on negative attention. It disturbs them when they are ignored. While this blog is obscure, we wonder how long it will take before he reads this post. If someone will find the link and pass it along to him, or if Bruce McCain will find it during a several-times a week (perhaps several times a day) vanity Google search.

Spend more time with educators, Bruce McCain. Spend more time with students and understand the job you’re elected to do better. Your community deserves it. You may even get elected to something else some day.