December 7, 2007 Volume 108 Number 23

Portland school employees getting restless

Custodians, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, classified employees and teachers at Portland Public Schools held a loud demonstration at the district office Nov. 19 to draw attention to stalled labor negotiations.

Nearly 200 workers, community allies and politicians rallied an hour before a scheduled school board meeting. Afterwards, the group took their protest inside to the meeting, where they pleaded for a quick and equitable settlement in contract negotiations.

Eighty-five special education school bus drivers represented by Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 have been working without a new contract since Jan. 1, 2006. Service Employees Local 503 is in stalled negotiations on behalf of 188 nutrition service workers. And 287 full-time and 17 part-time custodians represented by SEIU are trying to get a first contract after winning a lawsuit against the school district for privatizing their work four years ago.

The cafeteria workers’ contract expired June 30, 2007.

Also expiring June 30 was the contract for 1,300 clerical workers, nurses and library and teacher assistants represented by Portland Federation of Teachers and Classified Employees Local 111. They began bargaining in April.

In June, the school district implemented a “last, best and final” offer to its maintenance crew, who had been working under terms of an old contract for more than a year. That group of more than 100 workers from a dozen different union locals bargains jointly as the District Council of Unions. A few months later workers ratified a four-year contract by a single vote. The deal contains two bonuses, a $779 cap on health insurance premiums, and raises of 3 percent over the life of the pact.

“It’s the same tired story — do it all for less,” said ATU 757 President Jon Hunt.

Drivers voted down a school district proposal Oct. 30. The sides now will enter mediation in January 2008. [Regular school bus drivers work under a separate contract with First Student]

ATU pulled out of the DCU after the last contract two years ago.

“We took the bold move to leave the DCU because of our unique situation,” Hunt said. “And, if we need to strike — we are unified and ready to do so.”

The unique situation Hunt spoke of involves state funding. For every $1 the school district pays to transport special education students, it is reimbursed 70 cents by the state. Ever since co-payments for health insurance kicked in, the union has fought to reduce the out-of-pocket cost of drivers (who all work part-time) to the actual amount the school district pays on. Drivers earn between $12.66 to $16.51 an hour, or about $13,000 a year. When adding in the cost of health insurance, these lower-paid, part-time workers shoulder the biggest burden.

“It hits us harder because we’re being asked to pay the same amount for our health coverage as someone who’s making $50,000, even $100,000 a year,” said bus driver Randy Shaw. “This ends up being a much greater percentage of our paychecks than those higher-paid workers,” Shaw added.

SEIU is asking for only a cost-of-living wage adjustment for its custodians, whose pay currently ranges from $13.24 to $22.69 an hour. In bargaining Dec. 3, the district moved off its initial demand that custodians take a 30 percent pay cut. “I have not had a chance to crunch all the numbers, but it looks like the pay cut is roughly 20 percent now, which is unacceptable to us for obvious reasons,” SEIU rep Casey Filice told the Labor Press.

At the rally, Leslie Frane, executive director of SEIU Local 503 asked participants: “Are any of your bills down 30 percent? Has anyone from the administration taken a 30 percent pay cut?”

Mark Freimark, a 23-year custodian, said it was disheartening that “our welcome-back-to-work gift was a proposal to cut our pay.”

Cafeteria workers, who make $9.62 to $13.96 an hour, have an offer from the school district for a 1 percent raise.

Tom Smith, president of PFTCE Local 111, said his group also has received an offer from the district of 1 percent a year for four years, no step increases, the same $779 health insurance cap, and elimination of the district’s one-third portion of workers’ compensation insurance benefits.

On Nov. 29, Local 111 presented the district with its economic proposal: They’ll take the 1 percent wage hike — but they also want annual cost-of-living adjustments and step increases. “Our members are very concerned over stagnant wages and steps, and look for a fair wage increase and a reformation of the step ladder so that they can move on in their careers as dedicated PPS employees,” Smith said.

Local 111 is working with its affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers-Oregon, to formulize a future “plan of action.” The union has one more bargaining session scheduled this year, on Dec. 13.

Teachers will start bargaining for a new contract in January 2008. Their current contract expires in June. They are represented by the Portland Association of Teachers, an affiliate of the Oregon Education Association.

Home | About

© Oregon Labor Press Publishing Co. Inc.