- A 15-day strike in Portland, Ore., ended with improvements on every key issue, from class size to planning time, school safety to mental health.
- In Andover, Mass., union members went out on strike—and won 34 percent raises for instructional assistants, plus more.
- This fall has been the season of the strike—from coast to coast, and involving not just teachers, but also autoworkers, Hollywood stars and writers.
For 15 days, thousands of Portland teachers rallied and marched. They sang themselves hoarse. Pounded their feet until they ached. Standing together, locking hands, beating drums, growing stronger, they struck for the schools their students deserve—and they refused to back down.
In the end, they won. On November 26, their union, the Portland Association of Teachers, an affiliate of the Oregon Education Association and NEA, announced a tentative agreement with Portland Public Schools, bringing an end to the citywide strike. Through their strength and solidarity, union members won improvements on every key issue—from class size to planning time to mental health supports to safe schools to pay.
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.”
The Season of Strikes
In other words, there’s a reason union members strike. It’s because they work. In the late months of 2023, it wasn’t just Portland teachers who went out on strike and won improved contracts.
Notably, 34,000 members of the United Auto Workers went on strike for six and a half weeks, eventually winning 25 percent pay raises and improved retirement benefits from the Big Three automakers: Ford, Chrysler, and General Motors. Their new contract, approved last week, means autoworkers will get to $42 an hour in 2028.
Earlier this month, SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents tens of thousands of actors, also ended a historic 118-day strike with wins around health care, compensation for streaming shows, and guarantees that studios won’t use digital images of actor’s likenesses without their payment or approval. The SAG-AFTRA victory came just weeks after 11,500 Hollywood screen writers also settled their 148-day strike, with new protections around AI-generated content and other wins.
And, in the town of Andover, Mass., teachers ended a 5-day strike on November 14 with an agreement that boosts instructional assistants’ pay by a whopping 34 percent pay; raises pay for teachers by 15.5 percent; increases planning time for educators and recess for students; and provides eight weeks of paid parental leave.
“In Massachusetts, we’ve had more strikes in the past two years than the past 30. They do work and they have worked,” notes Andover Education Association (AEA) President Matt Bach. Indeed, their new contract is transformative: It has made a meaningful, quantifiable difference in the lives of instructional assistants, who will actually earn a living wage, and it has helped all of AEA’s members to understand the power of solidarity.
Doing Nothing Means Nothing Changes
In Portland, so many issues drove union members to strike. Class sizes are too big. Classrooms are infected with mold and infested with rodents. Temperatures rise to 90-plus degrees in the early fall and late spring and drop to 50 and below in winter. Planning time for teachers has been inadequate—and far below what was guaranteed to teachers in adjacent school districts. And workloads for special educators? Out of control and leading to rampant resignations.
While the picket line might sometimes be tiring, Portland educators said it was 100 times more painful to be in unsafe, overcrowded classrooms with students—and not have the time and resources to help them.
“Every day that I’m in the building, not supported and not able to do my best work, hurts. We get into this profession because we want to serve kids. We’re over here trying to compensate by staying late, working outside our contract day, trying to meet every need…It’s broken some of us,” said Portland’s McDaniel High School teacher Darshanpreet Gill, on the first day of the strike.
“Winning is going to feel really good,” she said. “It’s going to feel good for us, for the kids, for the parents—because when they send their kids to us, those kids are going to be fully resourced and supported!”
Big Wins for Portland Educators—and Families!
Portland’s new contract, which was ratified by members on Tuesday, includes historic wins for Portland educators, families and students, including:
- A 13.75 percent cost-of-living raise, spread over three years, the largest raise in the history of the union;
- A guaranteed 410 minutes of planning time each week for elementary teachers (up from 320) and at least 410 minutes for middle-school educators, too;
- A similar guarantee that elementary special educators who case manage will receive at least 40 continuous minutes a day for paperwork, and middle and high school case managers will get at least one period;
- Expanded bilingual pay, which will result in more educators getting the annual stipend of $1,500;
- An expansion of the mental-health rapid response team;
- An agreement from PPS that it will $10 million in clean-energy funds from the city of Portland to address temperatures in 31 schools;
- New limits on the amount of time educators spend on standardized testing.
Years ago, Andover was a lighthouse district, Bach says. But today, its pay and working conditions put them at the bottom of comparable districts. As a result, school started this year with dozens of unfilled instructional assistant jobs, says Bach. Plus, “in the teaching ranks, for the first time I can remember, we had at least one English position at the high school that wasn’t filled until a couple of weeks ago,” he says. “We actually had students in an English class with a different sub every day.”
Instructional assistants—almost all of them women and many of them People of Color—were getting paid in the low $20,000s to start. “After 17 years, they’d be in the low $30,000s,” Bach says.
With the new contract, starting pay for instructional assistants has improved to about $40,000. With experience, they eventually can earn $50,000. “It’s a significant material gain for those workers—and a statement that we’re not going to allow public schools to operate on the exploitation of this workforce,” Bach says.
Teachers also got 15.5 percent raises—and significant protections of their self-directed planning time, a critical issue for them. Recess has expanded by 10 minutes. And educators now have eight weeks of paid parental leave, plus the option to use four additional weeks of accrued sick leave.
Moreover, the Andover union members feel more connected to each other and to their students’ families who overwhelmingly stood with them. “So many people are feeling such tremendous solidarity with one another,” says Bach. “It’s really transformed individual’s relationships with their colleagues and their workplaces.
“That’s not measurable, but it’s something that’s important.”