Gresham, Parkrose teachers overwhelmingly vote to strike

Gresham, Parkrose teachers overwhelmingly vote to strike »Play Video

GRESHAM, Ore. -- Teachers from the Gresham-Barlow and Parkrose school districts overwhelmingly voted to strike Wednesday night.

The strike means hundreds of teachers could be off the job in less than two weeks.

At a private meeting Wednesday, teachers had to decide whether to accept the contract school district officials put in place. Either they accepted it or they would strike. After the meeting, they chose the latter.

After a year of negotiations, the board voted last month just to go ahead and implement the contract it wanted. Basically, it was a take-it-or-leave-it scenario. School district officials said what teachers wanted would mean 43 of them would be laid off or 16 school days would be cut. Instead, teachers now have a seven-period day and less classroom prep time in exchange for training.

The union has concerns about money, workload and safety. The changes, it said, are too radical for a contract bargained over 40 years.

Thomas Urbanowicz, the union bargaining chair, said he takes a vote like Wednesday's seriously.

"It's absolutely serious," he said. "I live in this community. My children have attended these schools and I plan on living here long after I retire, so I care about what happens."

These strikes are not effective immediately. The unions have to give 10 days notice first, so April 22 is the earliest they would strike.

Officials from the Gresham-Barlow School District are disappointed. They don't believe the differences warrant disrupting the rest of the school year for the kids.

"We really need to look at what our shared interests are ... see if we can find some common ground and identify solutions and really work together," said Athena Vadnais, Gresham-Barlow School District spokesperson.

School district officials will meet with the union Friday in the hopes of working out an agreement. If they can't come to an agreement, school district officials will either bring in substitute teachers or close its 19 schools.

"I think it would just be bad," said Gresham High School sophomore Mikey Downey. "When we have a sub the teacher gives a lesson plan but I doubt they would do that for a sub over a two-month period."

Parent Robert Tavares didn't mince words about how he feels about the situation.

"I don't like the idea of it," he said. "I don't think they should be doing that. I hope they reach some kind of settlement."

As for Parkrose, teachers there face pay cuts and may even have to pay back $900 per month for five months for furlough days. They also voted to strike if a compromise is not reached soon. In a statement, Parkrose School District Superintendent blamed deep state funding cuts for not being able to reach an agreement with the teachers' union.