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Irish Christmas in America Returns December 10, 2023!

As Portland's teacher strike goes on, parents are in a bind to find child care

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Teachers in Portland, Ore., are striking for an eighth school day.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Whose students?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our students.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Whose students?

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: Our students.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Who are we?

MARTÍNEZ: The teachers union is demanding higher pay and smaller class sizes. District administrators say they just don't have the money. Katia Riddle has been talking to families in Portland to hear how they're coping with the walkout.

KATIA RIDDLE, BYLINE: There are roughly 45,000 students in this district. Some schools are still serving as food distribution points for families who need it, but child care has fallen to people like Guillermina Cruz (ph). She's standing in her mobile home. It's in the northeast corner of town. There's a gaggle of kids around her.

GUILLERMINA CRUZ: Right here are two friends of my son. Here's my son, Anthony (ph), my daughter Alina (ph), my stepdaughter Mariana (ph), my daughter Melody (ph), my niece Sophia (ph) and my son is Junior (ph).

RIDDLE: How many was that total?

CRUZ: I think nine, 10 (laughter).

RIDDLE: Cruz is one of the few parents in her community without a day job. She's become mom to the whole neighborhood this week. She says they're getting by, but these kids should be in school.

CRUZ: They need to learn something. They miss their classmates. It's not like a vacation. It's not like a spring break or whatever.

RIDDLE: Other families are leaning on grandparents or organizing kids swaps. Facebook message boards are full of grumbling and speculation about how long the strike will last. A whole industry of strike camps has sprung up overnight.

JACKY TRAN: We both work, and we both work a lot.

RIDDLE: Jacky Tran is a media producer. Her husband is an art director. They were at first excited to find a camp for their 8-year-old daughter, Antonia. But after two hours, they got a phone call.

TRAN: It sounded like Antonia was just - like, she just had it and she was, like, miserable and just wanted to go home.

RIDDLE: She didn't know anyone. She was lonely and scared. They went to pick her up. But that left Tran and her husband, Tim Saputo (ph), back at Square 1.

TRAN: We can't just have her sitting at home. Like, we don't even have the time to organize, like, play dates every day.

TIM SAPUTO: Yeah.

TRAN: Like, what are we supposed to do?

SAPUTO: And, like, sync up with other parents' schedule who are also trying to do the same thing.

TRAN: Yeah.

SAPUTO: You know, like, that's like a whole full-time job.

RIDDLE: They found another place to go, but they estimate they've spent $500 on camps this week and at least six hours organizing logistics. Some families are making do without child care. Twelve-year-old Brianna Vasquez (ph) has been home alone with her 10-year-old brother. Her dad works in construction.

BRIANNA VASQUEZ: He's always calling me all the time to make sure I'm OK and we're safe. Did you guys eat? How are you guys? Are you guys OK? Is your brother home? Where's your brother?

RIDDLE: Her dad, Luis Vasquez (ph), says it's hard to concentrate at work when he's worrying about his kids.

LUIS VASQUEZ: You know, it's like I cannot work. Like, I'm not comfortable working, you know, because I'm thinking about, what are they doing?

RIDDLE: His daughter says it's not so bad at home, but she'd rather be at school.

BRIANNA: I do miss school because, like, all my friends and all that. And I miss, like, one specific teacher.

RIDDLE: That teacher, she says, is always on her side. Union negotiations will continue over the weekend. Parents may have to wait until Sunday night to know if next week will bring more of the same or if their kids will be headed back to school.

For NPR News, I'm Katia Riddle in Portland, Ore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Katia Riddle