Portland School Board closer to contracting custodial jobs

Like a train wreck in slow motion, the Portland School Board moved closer toward ending employment for several hundred union custodians with a June 24 vote to approve its 2002-2003 budget.

At this meeting, unlike previous ones, the board allowed public testimony. The public consensus was to spare the custodians, but that didn't seem to alter the board's opinion, since it voted unanimously to approve the budget without modification.

The approved budget contains a $4.5 million custodial department cut. About 310 employees are members of School Employees Local 140, an affiliate of the Service Employees.

The $4.5 million number came from calculations of money the district says it will save by contracting out custodial services. The union believes the non-profit Portland Habilitation Center is in line to get the contract. Forty-two custodians already received layoff notices last month and another 100 could be gone by Aug. 1, said Local 140 President Grant Walter.

Meantime, the union has opened its contract and has offered some concessions in order to help the school district save money.

A counter-proposal by the district June 28 called for a 20 percent salary reduction, capping health insurance premiums at $400 a month, and more.

"It's a ridiculous offer," Walter said. "It would put us back 10 to 12 years."

Jim Scherzinger, interim superintendent for Portland Public Schools, said absent a contract agreement (negotiations were ongoing as this issue went to press) the board is expected to vote on the subcontracting proposal at its meeting Monday, July 8, at 6:30 p.m.

Local 140 is planning a rally before the meeting at the BESC building, 501 N. Dixon, Portland.

Habilitation Center headed for labor's boycott list

Municipal Employees Laborers Local 483 has asked that the landscape division of Portland Habilitation Center (PHC) be placed on the Unfair/Do Not Patronize list of the Northwest Oregon Labor Council.

PHC is the same company that is in line to get a contract to provide janitorial service at the Portland Public School District, displacing more than 300 union custodians who are members of School Employees Local 140. (See article above.)

PHC is a multi-million-dollar non-profit corporation that offers employment and training services to people with disabilities.

The Laborers Union organized landscapers at PHC a year ago, but has been unable to secure a contract. "Their proposal, which they have not budged from, includes an unworkable grievance procedure, zero sick leave, zero vacation improvements, an open shop, and the truly benevolent offer of unpaid drive time to worksites," said Local 483 Field Agent Ben Nelson.

A federal mediator has been called in to help in the negotiations.

A motion at the June 24 labor council meeting to boycott PHC was put in the hands of the Executive Board with full power to act.

July 5, 2002 issue

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