Teachers begin second year of contract negotiations with district

Many teachers at Lincoln and across the district have worn these pins each day, expressing their frustrations that labor negotiations have stretched into a second year.

Sydney Laxson

Many teachers at Lincoln and across the district have worn these pins each day, expressing their frustrations that labor negotiations have stretched into a second year.

During the first days of school, teachers at Lincoln High School and across the district rallied together by wearing yellow aluminum buttons that read “2nd Year NO CONTRACTS.” Over 4,000 educators in Portland Public Schools have yet to finalize their next contracts.

Including the nine months prior to the expiration date, the district has been bargaining since July 2016. Negotiations have not been successful.

A similar delay also occurred in 2013 when negotiations stretched long. Tensions were high as the teacher’s union voted to strike, but that was cancelled due to a 27 hour bargaining meeting that met the teachers’ demands three hours before the scheduled walkout.

This year, all teachers across the district were asked by the union on the first week of school to protest and spread the word of the rising tensions that seem invisible to the public eye.

The 138 page contract that the teachers are bargaining is exhaustive.

“Every aspect of every teaching position, of every level, of every school is all governed by some language of the contract,” said Steven Lancaster, Lincoln psychology teacher and the head of the bargaining team for the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT).

The union has been working on taking a different approach to the bargaining, from the traditional counterproposal-proposal method to a more collaborative effort called interest based bargaining. “We began this process with the goal of changing the way in which the district and the teachers’ union negotiate,” he said.

As time went on, the process grew tense on both sides. The PAT has filed over a hundred grievances
(a form of legal action) against the district over the past year for breaching the contract.

The most important aspect of the contract that the teachers union is trying to protect is the workload language, Lancaster said. Teachers’ workload covers not only class sizes, but also professional development training, technology requirements, communications
requirements and collaboration requirements or any task that an Administrator requests of a teacher.

“If you are going to attack that protection, you are attacking the heart of teaching”, said Lancaster.

Over the past year, Portland Public Schools has had significant turnover in its higher leadership, from the departure of superintendent Carole Smith to the interim superintendent Bob McKean to another interim superintendent, Yousef Awwad. On Oct. 2, the district has new leadership with Guadalupe Guerrero as superintendent.

“We’re looking for administrators who will honor the contract, who will show respect for teachers, and understand that what we want to put in the contract is meant to ensure that what we are doing together is good for students and teachers,” said Lancaster.

But as the process drags on, another strike looms.

The district can trigger an imposed contract which will leave the union with two options: to accept the terms of the imposed contract or to strike. Alternatively, the union could declare impasse which would pave the way for a possible strike. The process has passed
all the deadlines required for an impasse.

In Oregon’s history, the most recent district to strike was Gresham-Barlow in 2012; that strike ended three hours after it started. he longest running strike was in 1987 by Eugene’s school district which lasted 22 days. The Portland Association of Teachers has never gone on strike.

Suzanne Cohen, the president of the Portland Association of Teachers wrote in a public letter on the organization’s website on Sept. 6 that “the best way to avoid a strike is to be prepared for one, and now’s the time to get ready.”

“If the district does not impose and does not negotiate in good faith then we may also have no choice but to say ‘look you’re not really bargaining, we’ve been trying for over 2 years, you’re not moving on the key things,’” says Lancaster. He says the union may eventually have to take a “compromise or else” stance.

The Cardinal Times reached out to Portland Public Schools for a comment on the negotiations and did not receive a response back.