Portland Public Schools employees rallied Friday, requesting hazard pay and more protection during the pandemic.

Although some school employees have been able to work from home during the course of the last year, that’s not the case for custodians who have worked to keep schools clean and nutrition service workers who have been continuing to provide school lunches to families, said SEIU 503 — the union representing Portland Public Schools staff members.

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Dozens of school district workers gathered Friday afternoon at Woodmere Elementary to express demands they are making to the school district, including a one-time $1,500 hazard payment to nutrition service workers and more access to personal protective equipment for all essential employees.

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“Since March, a year ago now, we have been out on the front lines — nutrition services workers have been out on the frontlines — handing out food, giving meals to families who need them,” a Portland Public Schools nutrition assistant said Friday at the rally. “All we’re asking for is some hazard pay. … We’re asking PPS to get us some face masks, instead of having to buy our own.”

SEIU 503 noted in a news release that nutrition service workers for the district are primarily women. The union also says that nutrition service workers are “the only PPS employee group who had their hours and wages cut during the pandemic.”

School district employees are also requesting heat and shelter for staff who distribute meals outdoors.

“Today is a gorgeous day,” the nutrition assistant said. “But they’ve been out here in the wind and the rain, the cold, the snow, and do you remember that smoke in the fall? They were out here too.”

These demands come as Oregon Gov. Kate Brown announced last week the plan to require all schools to return to some form of in-person learning by April 19.

“We are asking for equitable treatment, safeguards for our members’ health and safety, and the supplies and support they need to ensure the return to in-person instruction will be successful and we can fulfill our mission of caring for the children of our community,” SEIU 503 said in a statement.

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