By Eric Wolfe
IBEW 1245 Organizing Stewards Kristen Rasmussen and Michael Musgrove savored the taste of victory when the Medford (Oregon) School District and its teachers union reached a tentative agreement late in the night on Feb. 21.
Rasmussen and Musgrove were in Medford for over a week supporting the striking teachers—part of IBEW 1245’s on-going program of standing in solidarity with other unions while strengthening the skills of our organizing stewards. Rasmussen and Musgrove returned to California just hours before a tentative agreement was reached in late-night negotiations.
While many unions sent letters of support to the teachers, IBEW 1245’s presence was real and in the flesh.
“We were physical bodies, standing in front of them, holding a sign, getting soaked in the rain, drinking bad coffee, and dancing to show tunes on the sidewalk,” said Rasmussen, a two-year IBEW 1245 member employed at PG&E’s Sacramento Call Center.
Their days were long. Some began with Rasmussen and Musgrove walking picket at the hotel where they were staying—because it turned out that many scabs (replacement workers) were staying there, too.
Picket lines were spread out at various schools all over town. Wherever the IBEW 1245 members showed up, the strikers cheered.
Rasmussen and Musgrove brought coffee and walked with the picketers. They also leafleted parking lots and posted solidarity signs in the windows of area businesses. They promoted various community solidarity meetings. Rasmussen even served as master of ceremonies at one of them.
“You’re not alone”
Musgrove called the Oregon action “the opportunity of a lifetime.”
On the drive up he was nervous, wondering how two people could make a difference in a strike involving 600 teachers. But like Rasmussen, he figured out pretty quickly why the strikers were so happy to see two IBEW 1245 members.
“You’re not just two people in support. You’re a local of 20,000 showing solidarity and showing support in the fight,” said Musgrove. “Letting them know, ‘You’re not alone.’ ”
During the strike, which began Feb. 6, school attendance fell from 68% on the first day to 44% on the last day, a sign that the strike was gaining rather than losing strength. That level of solidarity undoubtedly helped push school board negotiators to realize they couldn’t simply “wait out” the teachers and their labor allies.
When the settlement was announced, teachers expressed relief at the prospect of getting back to their jobs.
“We are excited that we are going to get our kids back in our classrooms and be able to provide them the instruction we know that they need and deserve in this district,” said Bridget McMillen, an elementary school teacher and member of the Medford Education Association’s bargaining team, speaking to a local news outlet.
Musgrove said he looked forward to the next battle. “The next time my union calls on me to help, I will have that experience of fighting in Oregon.”
“Right now the middle class is up against the wall, and we’re seeing attacks all over—what you’d call union-busting. So acknowledging that and being in the front of it, I was proud to be representing 1245,” he said.
Rasmussen said she’d be ready to join another labor action “in less than a second.” Not just because it was exciting, but “because it’s important.”
“Labor is what makes this country work. If you don’t have a strong financially-capable labor force, there’s no finance in the country to work with,” she said. “Pay people a decent wage, they have the means to support their own communities. Without a livable wage, you’re dependent on your community, not a contributor to your community. And labor is what gives you that.”