Teachers in Portland, Oregon’s largest school district, voted Wednesday night to authorize a strike, setting the stage for a walkout that could disrupt classes for nearly 48,000 students, union officials said.
Portland’s 2,828 teachers have been engaged for months in contentious off-and-on negotiations with the district on a new three-year contract, and the strike authorization vote clears the way for a strike on February 20 if no settlement is reached, the Portland Association of Teachers said late Wednesday.
“No teacher ever wants to go on strike, we want to be in classrooms with our students,” union president Gwen Sullivan said in a statement after the vote.
“We can still negotiate after a strike vote,” Miles said. “We are still at the table. We are still trying to come to an agreement.”
A strike authorization does not necessarily mean that the teachers will walk out. It does, however, allow union leaders to declare a strike if negotiations are not successful.
The district already is bracing for a possible walkout with plans to keep its 78 schools open using substitute teachers if the need arises.
Some parents, however, have expressed concern at the prospect of their children crossing picket lines to attend classes or extracurricular activities during a strike.
“I don’t think we would send them to school with substitutes. We support the teachers,” said Ali King, the mother of two daughters in the sixth and ninth grades. “Even with qualified subs, it will be a disruptive atmosphere.”
Students at several Portland high schools were planning to stage their own rallies to show support for teachers before the vote on Wednesday.
The union and school district have been at odds over class size, teacher workloads, wages and insurance coverage, but the issue of staffing levels has emerged as the chief stumbling block.
The @PATSolidarity Twitter account reported…
— PAT Solidarity (@PATSolidarity) February 6, 2014
Our brothers and sisters in the PAT, and NEA local, have moved to the front lines in the battle for quality public education. We will monitor this situation very closely and the PJSTA will support them in any way we can as we stand in solidarity with them.