School custodians want hazard pay for hazard conditions


As skies were dumping 10.8 inches of snow on Portland Wednesday, Feb. 22, Portland Public Schools executives and administrators were warm in their home offices, and teachers and students would be given the next two days off. But night custodians battled blizzard conditions to get to and from work, in some cases walking. In one instance a custodian was stranded overnight when his car got stuck on the highway. 

Now their union, sublocal 140 of SEIU Local 503, has filed a grievance saying they were wrongly denied the disaster pay that’s spelled out in their union contract for when the district shuts down.

Gabriel Penk, a night custodian at Benson High School, is the union steward who filed the grievance March 7. He says even though the governor and mayor declared states of emergency and the district announced closure of schools, district brass insisted that custodians who made the trek should get just regular pay, relying on the contract technicality that headquarters was still open (though empty of staff even on regular days.) 

“As custodians, we can’t work from home,” Penk said. “We are required to come in, and many people suffered because of that.”

The grievance seeks double pay for those who made it to work and regular pay for those who stayed home.

Adding insult to injury, when PPS HR manager Roshni Sabedra learned that custodians would be holding a protest March 16 at district headquarters, she emailed to let them know they would not be allowed inside to use the restroom.        



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