PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Negotiations are heating up between labor unions and Portland Public Schools as employees took to the streets and filled the board room, warning district officials that they’re ready and willing to strike.
Several labor unions, including the Portland Association of Teachers, SEIU Local 503, and the Portland Federation of School Professionals, marched together Tuesday night, demanding a fair contract. Nutrition and custodial staff members say they’re pushing back against low wages.
“Portland is a very expensive place to live and we have a lot of single parents, mostly women in the nutrition service part,” said Amy Silvia with PPS nutrition services and SEIU. “So we just want management to know that we all mean business and we need some changes.”
Portland educators say they’re advocating for safe, sustainable and equitable schools.
“I’m here to stand behind students and with colleagues and coworkers to demand better building working conditions because building working conditions are student learning conditions,” said Beyoung Yu, a teacher at PPS.
Portland Public Schools said they’re already operating in the red and that their costs have increased twice as much as their revenue.
“The cost of operating our schools has increased twice as quickly as our revenue. We have both way fewer students, and way more PAT members. And the cost of (Portland Association of Teachers) members is mirroring inflation — while, again, our revenue increase is half of that. The math does not add up,” said a PPS spokesperson.
The district said funding PAT’s proposal would mean $34 million in cuts this year, $119 million in cuts next year and $124 million in the third year, compared to their offer, which they say would still require $10 million in cuts this year, $15 million next year, and $20 million the third year.
The district blames the budget imbalance on having fewer students, more educators and increasing inflation, but employees aren’t buying it.
The teacher’s union doesn’t feel like the district is being transparent about their finances.
“We are at a point where we really need to see some serious concessions in order to reach a settlement,” said Angela Bonilla, the Portland Association of Teachers president. “Right now, we need them to stop saving for a rainy day and acknowledge that students are in crisis.”
Teachers and staff also spoke directly to the school board during public testimony.
“Our students are right in front of us crying for help,” said P.E. teacher Alyssa Nguyen. “You can choose what’s best for 49,000 students and see us at the bargaining table or at the picket line.”
The teacher’s union will be bargaining again with the district on Wednesday. At the rate things are going, leaders of the unions tell KOIN 6 it is highly likely they could go on strike.
Next week, the union will start voting on whether or not they support authorizing a strike.