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Nov 28, 2023

The Portland Public Schools (PPS) and the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) reached a tentative agreement to their labor dispute on Sunday. The impasse had led to a three-week strike, cancelling eleven instructional days in Oregon’s largest school district. Students returned to the classroom Monday.

The highlights of the dispute weren’t novel. Teacher pay was a big item, and this deal landed in the middle ground there. Class size, student mental health support, class planning, and health and safety protections were also at issue, according to Oregon Public Broadcasting. But as is often the case in disputes like this, the collective total means more than the individual parts.

“This contract is a watershed moment for Portland students, families, and educators,” said PAT President Angela Bonilla. “Educators walked picket lines alongside families, students, and allies — and because of that, our schools are getting the added investment they need.”

That sounds familiar.

Last week, members of the United Auto Workers ratified their new deal with The Big Three. The deal brought wage increases of at least 25% over four and a half years for members, but it was bigger than that. Toyota, Honda, Hyundai, and Subaru have all announced wage increases since the tentative deal was announced.

“These were just extraordinary wins, especially for those of us who’ve been studying strikes for decades,” said Jake Rosenfeld, a sociology professor and labor expert at Washington University in St. Louis, to the Washington Post. “Research has consistently found over the past few decades that most strikes are defensive, rear-guard efforts to protect the status quo … to fend off steep cuts to wages and benefits. It didn’t mean actually gaining new ground.”

Both leading presidential candidates publicly supported, in starkly different ways, the union efforts. President Joe Biden joined the picket line, an unprecedented move in American history. It is on brand for the pro-union president, but the gesture is only possible because of the public support for workers in the matter.


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