Portland Public Schools employees have rallied repeatedly outside of schools and district buildings to press the state’s largest district over their working conditions during the coronavirus pandemic. On Wednesday afternoon, union workers again pressed PPS to meet their demands at a rally outside Beaumont Middle School in Northeast Portland.
PPS custodians and nutrition service workers are represented by the Service Employees International Union. The main thing they’re negotiating is a one-time $1500 hazard payment for nutrition service workers.
Amy Silvia is a co-chair of Local 140, the SEIU chapter representing PPS employees, and is herself a nutrition services worker.
“We need some support, we need to feel respected and like our voices matter,” Silvia said.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize nutrition services did have their hours cut,” Silvia said. She said not all employees experienced this.
PPS said it has made “every effort” to maintain hours for nutrition service workers. In a statement to OPB, the district said SEIU employees have received raises, and no employees have been laid off “during this time.”
“Employees have continued to accrue paid time off at their regular rates, pre-pandemic FTE rates, and benefits have been maintained,” said the district. “Every effort has been made to expand meal services so we could serve more families during the pandemic and mitigate any reduction to nutrition service hours.”
The union and the district met for a bargaining session last Friday. Silvia said the district agreed to communicate with the union, and visit meal sites around the district to make sure they are in outside locations that are comfortable and safe from the elements. But there was no agreement on hazard pay.
“It was kind of just a big waste of time,” Silvia said. “They’re not taking us seriously.”
The conversation between the parties continues as thousands of Portland students are back in school buildings after more than a year away.
Students attending school in-person get lunch in a “grab and go” setting. For Silvia, who works at Maplewood Elementary in southwest Portland, it’s not clear yet how many meals staff will serve. She’s heard from colleagues around the district who have had other staff jump in to help nutrition services.
“We’re serving a lot more meals with less staff,” Silvia said.
The union also continues to ask for more permanent union custodians and quarantine pay for staff who need to isolate.
There is another bargaining session scheduled for April 20, Silvia said.