Portland teachers demand a contract

December 18, 2009

PORTLAND, Ore.--Portland Public School Board (PPS) members cowered in a back room after another lively picket by some 700 members of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) and their supporters at a December 14 board meeting.

Teachers have been without a contract for over 530 days. When the PAT negotiating team met with a mediator on December 10, they gave a "what if" proposal in an attempt to reach a settlement that day. After numerous concessions, teachers felt confident of a settlement. But six hours later, the school board came back happy to accept the concessions--but wanthing more, leaving the PAT team "astounded and dismayed."

Before going into the school board building, PAT President Rebecca Levison addressed the crowd gathered outside the meeting about the contract fight.

She also introduced Dan Clay, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555, whose members have been without a contract for 18 months. In October, Dan, along with two other union officials, was arrested at the Hillsboro Fred Meyer store while talking to union members on union business.

When the school board started the meeting, Levison addressed the members, blasting them for their bad faith and foot dragging. She then introduced an activist from Portland Jobs with Justice who awarded PPS Superintendent Carole Smith the "Grinch of the Year Award" for being the meanest boss in Portland.

The packed gallery continuously shouted "Contract now!" School board members retreated to a back room and wouldn't come out, as the shouting got louder. Spirits were high as teachers paraded around the school board dais.

After about 10 minutes, a visibly shaken school board sent out a message to Levison asking her to come in. There, they pleaded with her to get the crowd to leave, saying they couldn't conduct the rest of the meeting with us there. After a short while, the point being made, the crowd left, with the message "We'll be back!"

One teacher commented, "They can't work with us here, but they can't work without us."

The next negotiation meeting will be in January, and the school board can be assured there will be a bigger crowd at that meeting with a loud and short New Year message: Contract now!

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