Faculty and staff at Portland Community College are asking for more support as the pandemic continues.
Members of the PCC Federation of Faculty and Academic Professionals — the union for PCC academic staff — gathered Wednesday afternoon outside of the college’s Southeast Portland campus for an informational picket. About 40 employees and supporters attended.
“This pandemic has been going on for so long and we have not gotten any extra support from the PCC administration for all the extra work we’ve had to do while we’ve been remotely teaching, remotely providing students services,” said Julie Hastings, nominations and elections officer for the union and a part-time faculty member at PCC teaching English for speakers of other languages. “All of the things we have to do now take twice as long, but we’ve been getting the same amount of pay, so we need a stipend to pay for the extra work we’ve been doing.”
Along with a stipend for an increased workload during the pandemic, the union is also calling for guaranteed enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols.
“They’ve refused to mandate vaccinations, so that means a lot of us are afraid to go back,” Hastings said. “So, we need to make sure that all the precautions are in place, and that we don’t have to be the ones that are fully responsible for policing the mask mandates, that there are policies in place for protecting all of us.”
Hastings said the union also wants PCC employees to have the option to continue working remotely during the pandemic, if their job positions allow.
“For some of us, we have vulnerable people at home, and we need a guarantee that it’s ok to not have to come back to campus if we’re not feeling safe,” she said. “As long as we can do our jobs effectively from home, then we should be able to do that.”
Hastings said she was scheduled to teach an in-person class this term, but the class ended up getting canceled due to lack of enrollment. She said that may have been due to students not feeling safe enough to come back to campus.
Laura Wadlin, also teaches English for speakers of other languages at PCC. She’s the union’s secretary.
“We want a college that cares about the wellbeing of the people who make it run and the students that we’re all here to serve,” Wadlin said.
Along with requests for employees, Wadlin said the union also wants PCC to take student experiences into consideration. To that effect, the union is also asking the college to lower class sizes to increase COVID-19-related safety and improve the learning experience for students.
“When we know that lower class sizes are good for students anyway, especially in a remote setting, especially in-person when there’s a danger of having too many people in a class, then it just makes sense to have across the board lower class sizes,” Wadlin said.
She also believes having that lower class size could avoid classes being canceled last minute.
Wadlin said the union has met with administration but has not yet gotten any movement on their requests. However, she said she’s hopeful.
“I’m confident [administration] will come through, because the urgency behind our demands are just so clear,” she said. “I am certainly worried about a future where students maybe think about other schools, or they think about, ‘I’ll just continue to work instead,’ or ‘I’m not going to pursue my dreams.’ I worry about that future, because we don’t want to see that continued deterioration of adult education in our community.”
Kate Chester, PCC’s director of public relations and community engagement, said the college is continuing to have conversations with union leadership.
“We appreciate input and feedback from our faculty and staff related to their needs, especially as the college reflects on a thoughtful transition back to work and what that may look like,” she said.
PCC’s fall term concludes at the end of next week. Winter term begins on Jan. 10.