Teachers in both Woodburn and Silver Falls have voted to authorize strikes after months of bargaining with their respective school districts.
Of the Woodburn Education Association’s 329 members, 91% voted to authorize a strike, according to union officials. In Silver Falls, it was 88% of 199 union members who approved the strike vote there.
Neither the Woodburn nor the Silver Falls unions will go on strike immediately.
Both groups have declared impasse and have begun a 30-day cooling-off period. A strike can only start after that.
Emily Rao teaches fifth and sixth grade social studies at Butte Creek Elementary School in the Silver Falls School District. She said she’s “apprehensive” about a potential strike.
“Striking means we’re not in our building and we’re not with our students,” Rao said. “For some of our students, school is a safe place, so to be the reason to take that away is really scary — but we also, as a union, are unified and we are willing to fight and strike if we have to.”
In the 5,000-student Woodburn district north of Salem, the big issue is pay. Union leaders there have said that low pay and a stressful working environment have led to many teachers leaving the district, some of them in the middle of the school year. Teachers say lack of substitute teachers and increased workloads have persisted since returning to full-time school after distance learning.
In Silver Falls, a 3,600-student district not far from Woodburn and Salem, the main issue is class size at schools with a large proportion of students from low-income households. Teachers at those Title I schools have held rallies to encourage support from the district community.
In a statement shared with OPB Friday, district officials said they’re hoping they reach an agreement with the Silver Falls Education Association without a strike taking place.
“We continue to work toward a resolution that will satisfy both parties, we have another mediation session scheduled that will occur before SFEA could strike, and remain hopeful that a strike can be avoided through continued negotiations and mediation,” said Derek McElfresh with the district.
During a mediation session earlier this week, McElfresh said district officials shared two proposals related to class sizes. Both proposals outline a plan for extra support options and a committee process if a teacher is “unsatisfied” with a class that’s above district ratios.
Silver Falls Education Association wants class size numbers written into the contract. Rao, who is also a member of SFEA’s bargaining team, says consistent numbers would trigger support for a teacher without having to ask for it — something that can be especially helpful for the district’s newer teachers.
“Having those numbers in there evens the playing field and makes it equitable across all of our Title 1 schools,” Rao said. “And it also gives teachers who are afraid to ask for help a guaranteed help at a certain point.”
The two unions are in mediation with their school districts in attempts to finalize contracts, but Oregon Education Association officials say a strike can be called as soon as next week in Silver Falls. The union will have to give the district 10 days’ notice before the strike begins.
The Woodburn School District declined to comment Thursday, citing ongoing mediation with the teachers union.
In Silver Falls, teachers were close to a strike in 2020, receiving support at the time from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Jeff Merkley, according to the Salem Statesman Journal. But the union and the school district reached an agreement before an impasse that year.
A recent strike of thousands of Los Angeles school employees lasted three days.