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 Public Schools couldn’t wait to declare impasse, and did so today. Our post from mid-September still holds: still no one on the district board is bargaining. The superintendent is far from the bargaining crisis. The H.R. Director far from the bargaining crisis. Growing word is that Yvonne Deckard continues to advise the district to escalate as soon as possible at every stage.

Yvonne Deckard [paraphrasing theoretical statement]: “Hey, guys. We can be legendary! An anonymous tea bagger has been commenting online that the district should shitcan all the teachers. We’re winning the internet, people!”

With the Medford school district also eager to escalate against its employees, along with Woodburn, this should make for an interesting winter.

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A bargaining press conference today with Board Chair Greg Belisle, HR Director Sean Murray, and Superintendent Carole Smith, none of whom have attended bargaining. Of the four others visible, two are fellow Board members. Media success!

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.

Back to Reynolds…

It was not long ago that we expressed our dismay at the new crop of Oregon school district leaders taking the helms of complex contract negotiations with little or no knowledge of how to get a deal done. The teachers in Reynolds have finished the second day of their strike, and it seems that inexperienced district leaders are not the only problem Reynolds teachers face.  The Reynolds Board has actually hired a lead bargainer who doesn’t seem to know how to find a deal.

Word on the street is that Reynolds Board attorney Paul Dakopolos is more seasoned on the litigation front and unseasoned when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of contract negotiations.  This might not be a problem if he was negotiating a contract re-opener in Jordan Valley, but strike negotiations in Reynolds, of all places, is a whole other story.

Let’s face it. The Reynolds Board needs some help. Their recent history is notorious.  Other area teachers tell us that it is not uncommon for districts in the region to preface statements with things like “At least we’re not as bad as Reynolds…” The Reynolds Board needs reasonable and experienced leadership. It is possible that some of the more seasoned contract negotiators passed on the chance to lead this Board because they saw the writing on the wall.  Who knows?  What is clear is that it is time for the community in Reynolds to stand up and demand that the Board put the brakes on their newest train wreck.

We’re not eternally pessimistic. There was one time in NFL history that a first year starting quarterback actually led his team to Super Bowl victory after a train wreck of a season the year before. Does Paul Dakopolos have what it takes to channel Kurt Warner?  Probably not. The Reynolds Board does seem like they are running a circus at times, but they’re definitely not the Greatest Show on Turf.

The Eagle Point educators and the school district reached a tentative agreement early this morning. While the details aren’t being shared out yet, it’s difficult to know whether the union-busting tactics by the administrators held, or were rebuffed (based on the student walk-outs and public demonstrations of support for educators, we’re guessing mostly rebuffed).

One thing that IS certain: a woodchuck (prairie dog? chupacabra? noncommital varmint?) bellowing “Allen! Allen! Allen!” over and over in this Eagle Point video is a total ear worm:

If you know the specific animal, comment below. Apologies for not being up on our zooology as much as we should.

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.