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Oregon: To Keep Schools Open, Teachers Must Work For Free

Sarah's picture

The governor is himself offering to work for free for four days. Oh, and to cut his pay by $5,860 a year. But he wants every teacher in the state's public schools to work for free for five days, or the state will close the schools early this year.
If teachers can be made to work for free for a week, what's to keep the corporations from demanding free labor as part of their entitlement next?

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Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

If teachers (who in Oregon are paid for 190 days' work, with the wage spread over a year -- so a week's cut for them is a big deal) can be made to fall in line with this, the next "big savings" you'll hear from the Right Wing Noise Machine is that all public servants should be working for free for one day a month or so, to make up for all those benefits and entitlements they don't earn.

What's appalling is that the leader of the Democrats in the Oregon legislature apparently thinks what amounts to a four-percent pay cut for a teacher is a great idea.

From The Oregonian:

Reaction was mixed. Democratic leaders applauded the governor for what they said was a responsible approach to extreme conditions.

"Shared sacrifice must be the model," said House Majority Leader Mary Nolan, D-Portland.

Submitted by lambert on

Full text:

It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job which sees us through our darkest hours.

There's the frame, set right up. (Of course, volunteering is different from being volunteered, but somehow I don't think that's going to loom large in the discussion.)

NOTE See here for my reaction when the speech was made.

Submitted by lambert on

You work for 15% less, they don't send their kids to violin lessons. I think that's more than fair.

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

Like everywhere else, Oregon is in a financial crisis. Our money woes are exacerbated by our lack of a sales tax and a weird and fiscally stupid thing called the "kicker." The "kicker" requires the state to return to the taxpayers any income tax $$$ collected above the amount of revenue that the state economists project the state will collect. As an example, if the prediction is that revenues will be $100, and the state takes in $200, then the extra $100 is sent back to taxpayers. Kicker checks are mailed to all taxpayers every December. If revenues fall below projections, no "kicker" checks are mailed. This makes it impossible for the state to create and maintain reserves because the extra money that would go into the reserves is sent back to taxpayers.

The reserve funds that Sarah mentioned exist only because during the last legislative session the business community agreed to have the corporate "kicker" for that year (2007), and that year only, placed in a "rainy day fund." Oregon was decimated by the bursting of the tech bubble. We faced early school closures then, too.

A further problem is our very own property tax limitation law, which, like all the others around the country, was the result of a citizen initiative. This law took school funding away from local school districts, gave it to the state, and established a state-wide funding formula. The new method was good for rural schools and deadly for urban districts, particularly Portland.

Some of you may recall that during the last downturn Portland was mocked in "Doonesbury" because, due to a lack of $$$, Portland Public Schools was faced with closing school almost a month early. To avoid that, the teachers' union offered to work for free for five days. Other things were cut, and with the offer from the teachers, schools were kept open. The teachers' contract was not revised, and things were back to normal the next school year.

Gov. Kulongoski opposes using our rather limited reserves this year because things are going to be much worse next year. Next year it won't be just the schools. It will be throwing the sick and the elderly out in the streets; it will be denying medication to the sick; it will be cutting health care to children. It will be much, much worse. Kulongoski wants to save the reserves because next year it will be needed to save lives.

The call to teachers was made because it worked in Portland. No one is asking that contracts be rewritten. It is a bad solution to an even worse problem.

Kulongoski is a former labor lawyer. It is not his intention to set a precedent for people working for free. But these are extraordinary times. My late grandmother was a teacher during the Great Depression. And sometimes teachers worked for free or for reduced salaries then, too. When the economy got better, full salaries came back.

Unions are key to insuring that the sacrifices made during hard times do not become the norm. So is the vigilance of everyone else.

Kulongoski is not the bad guy here.

Submitted by ralphb on

Who is the bad actor then? Fate? Nebulous economic issues? The failure of the feds to put help for the states education budgets in the stimulus?

What is a rainy day fund for, if not for rainy days?

Valhalla's picture
Submitted by Valhalla on

Teachers are an easy target and a dependable object of resentment to get trotted out by right-wing populists and politicians of all stripes. It's easy to resent a defined group that gets out of work at 3 in the afternoon, has "summers off", gets every state holiday ever invented off, and are usually part of another easy target, labor unions, and if not, at least have tenure (which looks pretty sweet to others who have been laid off or are afraid of being laid off).

But they are one small group, compared to the whole population of potential sacrifice sharers.

I know crap-all about Oregon state politics, but while politicians everywhere talk about making "hard choices", they usually end up taking the easiest way out. Here in Mass., Deval Patrick is raising taxes on every vice he can think of -- soda, candy, cigarettes, gas, dmv fees. Although folks are grumbling, vice taxes are popular among many of the odd sort of puritan-populists we have in New England, and add costs incrementally to people's budgets, in the boiling frog tradition. But they disproportionately affect the less-well off; if he were interested in really sharing the sacrifice, he'd hitch up his belt and tell the legislature they have to raise income taxes. But that would cause way more than grumbling, might cost him reelection, and would be frakkin' hard work. (although, I do think he's pushing it with the gas tax hike.)

It sounds as if you think because Oregon's governor is a good guy, he has no other choice than to ask teacher's to take a week's layoff. But is there really no choice, or your Governor, a politician whether a former labor lawyer or not, actually plumbing the prerecorded teacher resentment riffs to set up a false choice -- a week's pay from teachers or homeless elderly and discarded sick people?

If I sound suspicious, it's because it's exactly this sort of "there's only one piece of pie left and they're trying to steal yours" rhetoric that Reagan put to such effective use, and, I'm afraid, we'll be hearing a lot more about with the impending 'fiscal responsibility' summit orchestrated by Democrats. In times of crisis, everyone looks to exploit existing fault lines (it's quick! and easy!); we've already seen it with the anti-labor sentiment drummed up to oppose the auto industry bailout and oppose help for distressed home owners.

koshembos's picture
Submitted by koshembos on

Most American worker start from 10 days vacation a year. In Europe they start with 20+. That's 10+ working free in the US for the last who knows how many years.

Many individual with regular jobs work 10-12 hours days without being paid overtime.

We are speaking up 40 years too late.

pie's picture
Submitted by pie on

and I've been mulling this over all day.

When I taught in a averaged-sized middle school in WNY, we were paid a pittance. I started at $7700/year in 1974. Ten years later, I left, because we moved to Ohio. By then, I had a Master's and was making about $16,000/yr. (The MA had used up a chunk of change in the first five years, btw.)

Education SHOULD be a priority in this country - instead, Obama and Gates, as I read, want to spend more money on the defense budget.

We just do not have our priorities straight. Obama doesn't seem to have his straight.

I'm sure people would be willing to sacrifice a bit more if Wall Street wasn't effing up the equation.

There's fair, and then there's highway robbery.

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

but right now Oregon is just living through a drizzle; next year comes the massive downpour. That is what it is being saved for. This fund is very small. It was supposed to be a downpayment on building a real reserve fund.

I don't know who the bad guy is. Wall Street? The de-regulators? Obama because of a too small stimulus? Oregon voters because of poor past decisions on taxes? Globalization? All of the above?

If you have $50 dollars left in the bank and you have to choose between eating two meals a day instead of three for the rest of the month, or saving that $50 dollars so you can make rent next month, which do you choose? Is it better to be hungry, but not starving, or is it better to keep a roof over your head? What is the better choice? Oregon is making its choice. YMMV.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

and we're up over 300 already ... school funding here is via property tax.

The rates are set by the local districts, who are responsible for their districts' budgets.
This is disparate (of course!) and about 30 years ago a San Antonio area urban district with very little taxable property within their boundaries sued to force equitable distribution of funds between districts, leading to the whole "Robin Hood plan" merry-go-square.

The results remain a Romeo Charlie Foxtrot in a cluster.

I am sure if the Oregon teachers buckle, Goodhair and the Repubs in the Texas lege will find a way to get Texas teachers to "give back" more.

caseyOR's picture
Submitted by caseyOR on

of demonizing public employees, including teachers. And I get all the points everyone is making. I made my initial comment on this thread because I felt that Kulongoski's motivation and the situation on the ground here in Oregon was not being correctly portrayed by the post. I understand how Sarah got what she got on this story, but the post lacked what I thought was important information.

I don't know what to say about fears that people in other states will jump on this and use it to bludgeon all ready beleaguered teachers into accepting something that harms them.

As I have said, Oregon's reserves are miniscule. We have I think the 4th highest (maybe 5th) unemployment rate in the nation. A couple of days age the state economist informed the gov. and the legislature that things are even worse than everyone thought; things are going to get much, much worse; and Oregon will not see any signs of improvement until at least mid-2010, if then.

This was not a request that our governor made cavalierly. I don't believe he is trying to stick it to teachers and other public employees. We already have the shortest school year in the country, and I think he is casting about for anything and everything to keep schools open. There is no more "fat" to trim from school budgets. After years and years of cuts, the only thing left in school budgets is classroom time. That means teachers.

I just wanted to set the record straight on this governor's suggestion, at this point in time, in this particular state. That's all.

Sarah's picture
Submitted by Sarah on

another answer -- a better answer -- not just for teachers but for firefighters and police officers and public health personnel and yes, emergency managers and their staff too.

I don't know that there's any fat left in any of those budgets -- it's been do more with less in every branch of civil government since 1980.