Oregon Republicans plan legislation to ban teacher walkouts as Portland strike continues

As the Portland teachers’ strike continues into its third week, a trio of Republican lawmakers plan to introduce a bill banning teachers from striking.

The proposal from Reps. Vikki Breese-Iverson, Jami Cate and Christine Goodwin, all rural Republicans, will almost certainly be dead on arrival in the state Capitol, where Democrats supported by the Oregon Education Association control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. 

“Working parents and students are hurting right now,” said Goodwin, R-Canyonville. “The teacher union and PPS had all summer to negotiate before school was in session. Instead, parents have had to find ways to support their children during the eight hours per day they should be in school for nearly two weeks.”

Thirty-seven states, including Washington and Idaho, ban teachers and other public employees from striking. Most are under Republican control, but Democratic bastions including New York and Massachusetts also prohibit public-sector strikes. 

In some states with bans, teachers have sought ways around the prohibition by participating in sickouts, or calling out sick en masse. 

Breese-Iverson, the former House Republican leader who represents Prineville, said union bosses used nearly 44,000 students as bargaining chips in negotiations, causing irreparable harm. 

“Portland Public Schools are the gold standard for how not to run a school district despite record investments from the state. It is time they be held accountable,” she said. 

Cate, R-Lebanon, said teachers’ unions hold tremendous power and aren’t using it to prioritize students’ needs. 

“I am saddened for the students whose school districts are run by far-left activists repeatedly putting politics first and students last,” she said.

Oregon Republicans have long bristled at the political influence of the state’s unions. The Oregon Education Association spent more than $800,000 in 2022, including at least $350,000 toward Gov. Tina Kotek’s campaign. It also gave $75,000 last year to a political action committee that supported four ballot measures, including one to bar Oregon lawmakers from walking off the job. Under Measure 113, any lawmaker absent from the House or Senate floor for 10 or more days without an excuse is barred from serving another term. 

Oregon Education Association President Reed Scott-Schwalbach, who was also one of the chief petitioners for Measure 113, told the Capital Chronicle she expects Oregon will continue protecting the rights of union members to engage in collective bargaining.

“Oregon has a proud history of defending the collective bargaining rights of educators and other union members who work together to advocate for policies that improve the lives of working families across our state, and we are confident that tradition will continue,” Scott-Schwalbach said. 

Individual Democratic lawmakers have expressed support for the striking teachers, with some joining picket lines. Top Democrats insist they won’t provide extra funding for Portland Public Schools to settle the strike, though additional aid for all districts could come in the next legislative session.

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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.