Gresham teachers spent barely three hours on picket lines Wednesday before learning their union had settled with their employer, the Gresham-Barlow School District.
Rob Manning reports on the brief strike in east Multnomah County.
8:30 a.m. at Gresham High usually means lots happening inside. Today, teachers like Cathy Childress were outside holding picket signs. Childress said she spoke for most teachers by saying that money wasn’t the biggest issue.
“You ask most of the teachers on this line -- we will give up the cost-of-living increases, and we’re ok with the furlough days. What we want is for the district to ask us, and to negotiate with us, which days those are going to be.”
Childress says planning time was a big deal at the high school and dealing with disruptive students was an issue at the elementaries. But no sooner had Childress explained the problems than hopeful rumors started circulating.
Teacher Rick Bartha had a good feeling.
“I’m hearing some indications from people that – there was one of our classified people, our tech person here, and they were going to re-program all our computers, but then they said ‘don’t, don’t do it, we feel like a settlement is coming’ – but I don’t know that for a fact,” Bartha said.
It wasn’t long before a call came from union leaders in the mediation talks. So teachers started walking from the high school to the church, where talks had been going on all night.
Tom Urbanowicz, the union’s tall, bearded, and bleary-eyed bargaining chair was waiting with a smile.
“We just finished signing a tentative agreement with the district. Yeah, we can’t give out details. We’ll be holding a meeting as soon as possible to get members together to talk about the details, and ask whether you would like to approve the tentative agreement. We’re asking you to go back to work.”
And Urbanowicz meant "get back to work" literally, teachers needed to get their rooms ready for classes Thursday morning.
Urbanowicz credited the picketing for pushing the district to settle.
Gresham-Barlow superintendent Jim Schlachter disputes that. He says he wanted any deal to avoid layoffs.
“We succeeded. We will not be cutting teachers in the coming year, which for us is very important because we need to get through the two-year biennium,” Schlachter said.
One of the last teachers to leave for her classroom was Cathy Childress. She said she was a lot happier to be going back to school, than back to the picket line.
“I was only out there for a few hours, and I was thinking ‘wow, if this goes much longer, it’s going to be really, really hard.’ But we would’ve done it. I guess.”
The deal still needs the approval of the teachers in the Gresham-Barlow Education Association, and the school board. In the meantime, students are back in class, Thursday.