February 6th, 2014 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: Schools, Activism

Here's What Happened Inside the Vote to Authorize a Teachers' Strike

"It was a sea of blue, thousands of people in blue."

strikeA member of the Portland Association of Teachers leaves the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall after a vote to authorize a strike. - Photo by Aaron Mesh

Members of the Portland Association of Teachers voted Wednesday night to authorize a Feb. 20 walkout of Portland Public Schools classrooms—pushing the district perilously close to its first-ever teachers' strike.

Their decision leaves just 14 days to resolve more than 9 months of bargaining where school district officials and union representatives talked past each other over the terms of a new contract.

The vote by the 3,600-member teachers' union was held last night at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in downtown Portland, after a sidewalk rally in freezing temperatures (enlivened by beat-boxing and an inflatable plastic flamingo). 

From the outside, it was an undramatic—if historic—event. No officials from the school district showed up. Nor did any city or county leaders arrive to negotiate, advise or take in the scene.

The meeting itself lasted just under 90 minutes. Media were not allowed inside.

But one of the teachers in attendance has offered WW her observations of what took place behind closed doors in the Schnitz.

There was 45 minutes of speakers and video on stage. Then they went to a Roberts rules thing and there were five mics around the Schnitz.

Two people spoke against—every other speaker was for. A lot of video and speakers from other districts. There is a real feeling we are fighting for more than just Portland students, this is a battle for public education.

Steven Lancaster, a Lincoln teacher and bargaining committee member, got the most cheers and two standing ovations when he spoke about the district's tortuous bargaining tactics.

In the crowd 4 to 5 people spoke, but then the chant came up for a vote. It was more a rally than a debate—which really upset one guy. They tried the whole Roberts rules thing, but pretty much everyone wanted to just get the vote done with.

When the first guy was complaining about no debate, a few people started shouting out against him, but there was a big "Shhhhh." No crowd can "Shhhhh" like a crowd of teachers!

But there was a definite air of "We come to vote, and the time for debate is over." I would say the chant of "Vote! Vote! Vote!" went up two or three times.

Worries about healthcare coverage were abated when teachers learned the Oregon Educational Association will pick up coverage when bills come due on March 7. It was a reason some teachers were initially going to vote no. There has been a lot of work leading up to tonight.

It was a sea of blue, thousands of people in blue. It was very moving and quite emotional. It got to around 8 pm and no one wanted to listen to any more rallying speeches, it was time to vote. When the vote came it was—basically—unanimous, but there wasn't a celebration. No, it was more resigned to the fact this is what we have to do.

A lot of people were surprised to know the strike date has already been set, but there was resignation to knowing we are going to have to go all the way.

 
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