By COLIN STAUB
Daycare workers at the Crystal Springs location of Growing Seeds Learning Community went on strike in early August—after bargaining for more than two years without reaching agreement on a first contract. Three days later, they had a tentative agreement with management.
Growing Seeds has three child care locations in Portland: two in Northeast and one in Southeast. Workers at all three centers in March 2020 voted to unionize with International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 5. At the Crystal Springs location (2808 SE Steele St.), they voted 15-0 and formed a bargaining unit of about 20 workers.
As bargaining dragged on and on, the union accused management of negotiating in bad faith, making unilateral changes without the agreement of workers, and discriminating against union activists, in charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Workers authorized a strike in July and began picketing Aug. 8.
The strike changed the dynamic. Growing Seeds Workers Union announced Aug. 11 that it had reached a tentative agreement with management and that workers would vote on it beginning Aug. 19. The contract covers Crystal Springs and Growing Seeds North. The third Growing Seeds location, called Flouriche in Irvington, has been sold since the union election. Bargaining will continue on that contract.
The union had not shared details of the agreement as of press time, but ILWU organizer Ryan Takas said it includes raises, paid time off, paid sick time increases, and lower healthcare costs.
Strikers had said one sticking point was a union security agreement—a requirement that all union-represented workers join the union and pay union dues, or at least a “fair share” amount that goes directly to the union’s costs to bargain and enforce contracts. Growing Seeds management had refused such an agreement. The tentative agreement does not include union security, but workers retained the right to strike, which they had offered to waive in exchange for union security.
Meanwhile, short-staffing is causing daily challenges at the preschool. Workers say the centers have seen substantial turnover over the past few years and are struggling to hire and retain enough teachers.
Crystal Springs teacher Kate Rayner Fried said the lack of staff means teachers’ lunch breaks are often shortened. Teachers will be told at the last minute to lead a class solo, where they usually would be in pairs. The turnover means the children have little consistency in who’s leading their classes.
Recent Growing Seeds job postings show early childhood support teachers start at $15 to $17 per hour. Lead teachers start at $18 to $19. Workers say raising the base wages would improve hiring and retention, and that until that happens, they don’t expect staffing to improve.
“They have their ads out, and no one wants to come,” Rayner Fried said.
Though the preschool closed completely during the strike, workers developed a plan to continue providing care for families who didn’t have alternative options throughout the week. Ahead of the picket, they put together a survey and figured out which families would be heavily impacted, and then worked directly with those families to provide at-home care for the children. They consulted with the Oregon Department of Education’s Early Learning Division about how to legally provide the alternative care in line with licensing rules.
Growing Seeds’ Crystal Springs location opened in 2015 and is associated with Reed College. It rents space from the university, and some of the students are children of Reed faculty members. The center has five classrooms and a capacity of 58 students, according to Growing Seeds.