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News / Clark County News

Evergreen, Camas educators advised Portland teachers union before walkout

By Griffin Reilly, Columbian staff writer
Published: November 4, 2023, 6:03am

Last month, leaders from the Portland Association of Teachers invited key organizers from the Evergreen Education Association and Camas Education Association to lend advice on how they led strikes earlier this fall.

Evergreen teacher Adam Aguilera and Camas teacher Michael Sanchez led daylong events Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 to teach Portland educators the importance of using social media, concise messaging and ways to support the physical health of picketers walking the line.

Sanchez called the events “strike school.”

“Prior to the strike, they really wanted to learn about what we did. We had made some pretty good waves not only at the state level but at the regional level,” said Sanchez, vice president of Camas’ teachers union. “For folks who have never been involved, it can be a pretty scary proposition. When they approached me, it was with nothing but appreciation. They were receptive to ideas that I shared.”

A spokesperson for the Portland Association of Teachers shared a statement Friday that confirmed the presentations had taken place and said Clark County educators shared “lessons on working with parents and community, linking what was happening at bargaining to the picket lines and social media best practices.”

Aguilera, who was first contacted by the Portland Association of Teachers, said he focused on reassuring Portland educators they shouldn’t feel isolated on the picket lines.

“One of the things we shared with those educators is that the community is behind you with what you’re fighting for,” said Aguilera, a language arts teacher at Shahala Middle School. “Parents pay attention to what you do, and they want to help in any way possible. We saw such overwhelming support because they saw what we were fighting for to help our students.”

Friday marked the third day of striking for Portland teachers. Union members are asking the district — which is the biggest in Oregon and approximately twice the size of Evergreen Public Schools — to better address staffing shortages, maintain smaller class sizes and provide “competitive wages” to pace inflation.

Issues beyond Portland, Clark County

Before Evergreen educators went on strike in early September, union President Kristie Peak said she felt public education was at a tipping point. Now, seeing a much larger union fighting a similar battle in Portland, she feels it’s an opportunity to expose the public to the issues teachers everywhere are facing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In a way, it’s disheartening (to see Portland teachers striking), but in another way it’s hopeful,” Peak said. “Because again, we are pulling back the curtain on what are the real issues in public education. They’re not unique to (Evergreen).”

Peak was aware Portland union leaders had reached out to some Evergreen and Camas organizers, but she wasn’t involved in the pre-strike presentations. That said, she’s maintained a cooperative relationship with Portland’s members in recent years, she said.

“We’re all educators. We come together for various things: trainings, national conventions, things like that,” Peak said. “We do have a relationship and a common goal — just to know that they’re there, we can share stories, talk about what the issues are and how they might be addressed.”

While striking isn’t an option she feels she’d ever want to resort to again, it remains an important tool to get the attention of administrators and legislators. On Thursday, Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek called on Portland Public Schools’ board members to join the bargaining table to help reach a deal.

“I don’t regret the strike at all. It was necessary, we were not at any point where we felt like the district understood the depth and serious and severity of the issues,” Peak said.