Hundreds of teachers marched past the Portland Public Schools headquarters this evening in the Rose Quarter, shutting down westbound lanes of North Broadway during rush hour and setting the stage for an increasingly likely teacher strike later this month.
The “practice picket” was a joint event between the Portland Association of Teachers and representatives from four other unions that serve the schools, including custodians, secretaries, nutrition service workers and educational assistants. The event took place the hour before a School Board meeting.
Angela Bonilla, PAT president, hyped up attendees with chants before the march, which passed by PAT’s new billboard on North Benton Avenue and Broadway. The billboard reads, “Can’t put students first if you put teachers last.”
“Our goal is to make sure that the district understands that we are out here fighting for our students and our families, not just ourselves,” Bonilla says. “And that they need to focus on investing all of the money they have available in our schools—not in administration.”
PAT has been circulating literature called “A Manufactured Crisis” that posits that PPS is sitting on nearly $100 million while teachers bargain for smaller class sizes, higher pay and more support for students. The dollar amount refers to the school district’s general fund balance.
Dr. Renard Adams, PPS’s chief of research, assessment and accountability, is on the district’s bargaining team and disputes that assertion.
“There are very real financial limitations on what we can offer if we want to sustain the success we’re seeing in our schools,” Adams says. “We ask our educators to come back to the bargaining table and work with us to find a compromise that keeps our students at the center.”
PPS teachers have been working without a contract since June. They are currently in a 30-day “cooling-down” period during tense contract bargaining with the district. A strike could legally begin as soon as Oct. 23, according to the district, but it looks like as if it will start closer to Oct. 29, as first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting.
Veronica Green is the lunch lady at Bridger Creative Science School and on the bargaining team for Service Employees International Union. SEIU has been bargaining with the district since February and launched its strike pledge at tonight’s event.
Green’s chief issue is getting a fair contract that allows her to pay her bills, because right now she can’t. She currently makes about $30,000 a year at her cafeteria job. Her picket sign read “I need $25 to survive,” referring to an hourly rate for a living wage. Other messages on picket signs at the rally included “Our children can’t wait” and “Ready to strike.”
“I love my job; I don’t want to get another job,” Green says. “I don’t think anyone wants to strike, but we also can’t sustain living like this anymore.”