Portland teachers ready to fight

October 19, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore.--The Portland Public School Board meeting opened on October 12 with a rendition of the union song "Solidarity Forever"--sung by over 300 seriously angry teachers, who have now been working without a contract for 15 months.

The chair of the board started off the meeting saying how the board "respects" teachers. This was greeted with some derision by the crowd, made up of members of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) and other union members showing their solidarity.

There have been several rallies of teachers at school board meetings over the past years when the school board and its well-paid negotiators were playing hardball and stalling. But this one was markedly different than in the past. Before teachers were angry, but usually stayed respectfully quiet. This time, with the board pushing teachers to the limit, teachers were very vocal.

PAT President Rebecca Levison addressed the school board, pointing out teachers who are struggling with more students and less equipment. She said that teachers under the present proposal would earn less than they did in 2007. Meanwhile, the school board, which harps on about "shared sacrifice," has hired three new deputy superintendents, who have been given a pay raise of over $13,000 each--the equivalent of one-third of what a teacher makes after four years of experience.

Teachers are already working 50 or more hours a week and are experiencing increased class sizes. The board has informed the PAT by e-mail that there will be five "furlough" days, and no doubt the board will want more. The school board also wants to extend the school day and the school year without extra pay.

PAT negotiators were in mediation with the school board and talked until 11 p.m. that evening, but got nowhere. PAT has sent another survey to its members to see what teachers will not tolerate.

When Levison finished, the teachers left in unison. If the teachers are going to achieve anything, the anger that was on display must be turned into action.

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