U.S. Labor News Roundup: University Teachers Strike in Illinois, K-12 Teachers Almost Strike in Portland
After coming to the brink of what would have been the first strike in their union’s history, Portland, Oregon, teachers are instead voting on a contract that reduces workload and reduces class sizes by more than 5 percent.
Although the district went into negotiations last April intent on stripping the contract down to the bare bones, teachers won new language that protects their ability to teach. The agreement prohibits the use of students’ standardized testing data in the transferring, firing, or compensating of teachers, and protects teachers’ academic freedom.
At a packed meeting, bargaining chair Bill Wilson told the room that the union never would have been able to achieve such a contract without the strike vote and strike preparations.
The Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) represents about 2,900 teachers, counselors, and school psychologists. After two decades of constant cuts, they had felt stretched to the breaking point.
The district had increased the caseloads of special educators, counselors, and school psychologists, and reduced the number of arts, physical education, library, and other specialists, so that one was often assigned to serve two or more schools.
The district’s stance created a tide of new activists in the union. Schools and weekly school board meetings were regularly flooded with a sea of blue, the color representing PAT solidarity. At nearly every board meeting, teachers testified passionately about school conditions and what we need to serve our students.
The citywide Portland Student Union emerged as a powerful supporter. Students organized acts of solidarity in every high school. At Cleveland High, 600 students—half the student body—walked out, chanting “If you strike, we’ll strike too!”
A network of parent and community supporters also fought alongside PAT. With the strike date approaching, they organized food distribution centers and childcare.
Virtually the whole membership packed a hall February 5 for the strike vote, which passed by 98 percent. Arriving teachers were cheered on by hundreds of community members rallying outside in the freezing cold, with signs that read “We’ve Got Your Back.”
Faculty at University of Illinois at Chicago went on strike February 18 and 19 for the first time in the university’s history.
More than 1,000 UIC United Faculty members, students, and other supporters turned out to picket lines during the two-day strike, which aimed to win a first contract.
If not enough movement occurs, the union will strike longer later in the semester.
UICUF represents 1,150 tenure-track and non-tenure-track faculty. About 800 are members of the union. The university is refusing to move on improvements for the most vulnerable faculty members—those not on the tenure track. The union is asking that their minimum full-time salary be raised from $30,000 to $45,000 and that they receive multi-year contracts.
UICUF has spent months mobilizing members for protests, a teach-in, and a rally. Seventy-eight percent of members turned out to vote on strike authorization; 95 percent voted yes.
Tenured faculty members are considered permanent and usually split their time between teaching and research. Most non-tenured lack job security and focus primarily on teaching. It’s easy to pit the two groups against each other—which is one reason why it was so important to members to be in the same union.
Members are holding out for equitable pay for both units. Under the union’s proposals, both units would receive a 4.5 percent raise. Ideally, they aim to lessen the disparity between the two tracks.
Many faculty realize that tenure positions are endangered by their replacement with cheaper non-tenure positions. UICUF says the only way to strengthen the university is to organize the two tracks together.