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Portland teachers union declares impasse in bargaining talks, setting the stage for potential strike

The teachers union called the current state of negotiations frustrating and fruitless. If an agreement isn't reached, teachers could strike as soon as late October.

PORTLAND, Oregon — The union representing Portland Public Schools teachers declared an impasse after bargaining talks Friday afternoon. This decision sets the stage for a strike down the line if an agreement is not reached.

In a statement the union said that they have not seen meaningful movement from the district on issues important to their members. 

PPS said that the union did not submit a counter proposal on Friday and said they were disappointed an impasse was declared. For months teachers have worked without a contract. 

A teacher strike could happen as early as the end of October, if a deal isn't reached. So far, little progress has been made after nine months of bargaining. Parents are beginning to worry that a strike could soon ensue.

"We know at the end of the day the group that will be most affected are the students,” said Delaurore Kyly, a parent of two PPS students.

Friday’s mediation session was the third one PPS and the Portland Association of Teachers have had. It is currently the last one scheduled.

If no agreement is reached, a strike in October would force school closures. Portland Public Schools website states that sports, childcare, clubs and support for students applying to colleges could all be affected.

"Getting your applications done for a college means teachers helping you in some cases with recommendation letters," said Eric Happel, a parent of two students at Lincoln High School.

Happel said he’s most concerned for one of his children who is a senior. They have already spent a large portion of high school learning remotely. 

Over the course of negotiations, PPS has raised its offer for teacher wages. Their first offer in January offered 2.5% raises for each year of the three-year contract. On Friday, PPS offered a 10.3% cumulative salary increase over the next three years. 

New teachers would receive an initial 3.4% hike in pay. Portland Public Schools said the wages would make their teachers the highest paid in the metro area, and among the highest statewide.

"The solution cannot be going on strike,” Happel said. "They have to find another way to continue to bargain and find a path forward."

In a post on their website, the teachers union said the offer doesn’t keep up with inflation.

A study by the National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit research group, found that on average new Portland teachers spend 42% of their salary on a one-bedroom apartment.

The study found that was the second highest amount nationwide, just behind teachers in San Francisco.

"What they are asking for is reasonable to make sure the kids are getting what they need to thrive in the classroom," Kyly said.

The union countered, proposing an 8.5% salary increase in the first year of the contract. In years two and three, teachers would receive 7% and 6% increases respectively. Their offer has not changed since bargaining began in January.

PPS said the raises, and jobs the union proposes the district adds, would be too expensive. On their website, PPS said the expenses would near $100 million.

The union disputes those numbers. Union representatives said they have not seen PPS cost estimates of union proposals.

Both sides have reiterated they do not want a strike.

The next step is now a 30-day cooling off period when the teachers union could call for a vote. After that, teachers could strike after giving the district a 10-day notice.

Or, the sides can continue to bargain to avoid the first strike in Portland Public Schools' history.

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