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Portland Teachers Authorize Strike, Could Walk Out Feb. 20

Portland teachers voted Wednesday night to authorize a strike. The vote means teachers could walk out Feb. 20.

Outside Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, even before the vote, it felt like the Portland Association of Teachers was already on strike.

During an hour-and-a-half private meeting, teachers voted to authorize what would be the first-ever teachers’ strike in Oregon’s largest district.

Portland Association of Teachers leaders say the strike authorization vote was nearly unanimous. Union President Gwen Sullivan said members didn’t need to debate whether to strike.

“They were ready to take the position to vote to strike,” Sullivan said. “It was very clear that folks did not - that this was not the priority. But they felt like they had to, in order to get what our students deserve.”

Sullivan said the vote was taken by having teachers stand up.

Beth Lemen teaches at Cesar Chavez School in North Portland. Holding a “support Portland teachers” sign, Lemen said teachers want contract changes that help students.

“I feel like we need to stand up for our kids, ” Lemen said. “The way things are set up now, we can’t do what we need to do, to support our students.”

Teacher workloads, early retirement incentives and other financial issues are sticking points.

School board leaders responded with “disappointment” to the vote. They warn a strike would be “extremely disruptive.”

The two sides are scheduled to meet in mediation on Sunday.

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