Members of other Portland school employee unions react to make-up day plan

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Nov. 30, 2023 2 p.m.

At least two unions representing PPS employees say they were not consulted about the plan negotiated by administrators and teachers to cut into winter break.

In this screenshot from a video feed, representatives from the Portland Federation of School Professionals and SEIU unions speak at the Portland Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Nov. 7, 2023, at the district office in Portland.

In this screenshot from a video feed, representatives from the Portland Federation of School Professionals and SEIU unions speak at the Portland Public Schools Board of Education meeting on Nov. 7, 2023, at the district office in Portland.

Screenshot / PPS Board of Education video

To make up the 11 days of lost instructional time for students due to the Portland Public Schools teachers strike, the Portland Association of Teachers and PPS decided to add those days back, starting with the first week of the district’s winter break, which starts on Dec. 18.


PAT members ratified the contract and the school board approved it at a meeting Tuesday night.

But PPS employees in other labor unions – whose members include school secretaries, nutrition service workers and paraeducators – say they weren’t consulted, despite being affected by the change happening in less than three weeks. Two of those unions are in bargaining talks with PPS.

Heather Maharry, a school administrative assistant at Sabin Elementary, said some of her colleagues made plans for winter break, not knowing they’d be called back to work on short notice.

“Some of them have purchased non-refundable travel tickets, had arranged to be with family, scheduled medical work or medical appointments during that time,” she said, noting that she and her colleagues make an effort to schedule around school days.

“Then without any consultation we were told there were 11 days added to the school year which affected not only the teaching staff but classified staff as well.”

Most of these employees have been working during the strike, handing out meals, practicing their bus routes or cleaning empty school buildings. The new days are on top of that.

“It’s disheartening to feel that our voice did not matter when this decision was made,” Maharry said.

Maharry is a building representative for PFSP, the Portland Federation of School Professionals. PFSP represents about 1,300 classified employees at PPS – which includes staff who work in school offices, as well as those who support teachers in classrooms.

Both PFSP and another union, Service Employees International Union, have spent months in contract talks with PPS. SEIU Local 503 represents more than 600 custodians and nutrition service workers in PPS.


Both have called for mediation in their contract talks, a sign that the two unions and Oregon’s largest school district need help coming to an agreement.

Now, both unions have added this schedule change to their bargaining to-do list.

SEIU is set to bargain with PPS on Dec. 11, with mediation set for Jan. 18. Union officials say they were not consulted about the schedule change and members are upset due to pre-arranged plans. The union has asked the district for a plan.

PFSP and PPS had come to an agreement back in September, but members rejected the agreement when it was presented to them for ratification.

“The result of this vote indicates there is a lot of work still to do to improve the working conditions of our members,” said PFSP’s president at the time, John MacDuffee. “We are encouraged by their high level of engagement as we move forward. PFSP is hopeful for a contract that allows our workers to thrive now and in the future.”

PFSP Acting President Elizabeth Held told OPB Wednesday that her union has issued a demand to “bargain over the impact of the working conditions of our members as a result of the extension of the academic year.”

Both SEIU and PFSP have been working without a contract since July.

“Despite not having a contract, all of the affiliated employees worked part-time or full-time in good faith during this strike,” Maharry said. “We have supported our families, our administrators, and our communities. I do not feel that we should be penalized by a decision that was made without our input.”

Maharry would like to see “amnesty” for employees who already have plans for winter break, and a pay boost for those who show up to work Dec. 18. She said she will plan to be there.

“I feel like that should be time and a half since they’ve essentially changed the length of our school year from the original contract that we had in place,” Maharry said.

The district has not yet announced any plans for how they might respond to staff or student absences during winter break, but the district appears to be considering other options for when to make up the lost time, including making Martin Luther King Jr., Day a school day.

The added work days, lack of consultation and uncertainty around how it’ll all work have put a damper on an otherwise joyful return for some school communities.

At Sabin, Maharry said kids and teachers are happy - but there are mixed feelings among staff.

“There were a lot of instructional days missed, and some folks are wondering, ‘was it worth it?’” she said. “I’ve heard parents say, ‘oh things will get back to normal’ - it feels like normal might be different now [...] and maybe everyone is not as positive as they were before the strike.”