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On the picket line

November 30, 2007 | Page 11

Portland, Ore., schools
By Paul Dean

PORTLAND, Ore.--Some 200 labor activists rallied outside a meeting of the Portland Public School (PPS) Board on November 19 in support of 300 school custodians and 188 nutrition service workers, members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503, whose contract expired in June.

So far, PPS has offered nutrition workers a 1 percent raise and school custodians face a 30 percent wage cut. The nutrition workers are the lowest paid in the district. Harriet Tubman school cafeteria worker Erin Fox's pay for one month was $917, but 60 percent of this was deducted for her health care, leaving her $379 or about $5 an hour.

And now PPS administrators say she should do her six hours work in five and a half. To qualify for full-time benefits, Fox needs to work six hours, so their intent is obvious. Custodians are also understaffed.

Today, custodians and food workers are not the only ones under attack. PPS bus drivers, members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 have been without a contract since January 2006. The drivers say they have been living with an average 18 percent wage cut from health care costs alone. And the district wants more cuts.

Some 3,800 Portland teachers are set to start bargaining a new contract in January, which promises to be acrimonious. The present contract ends in June, but with the school pushing merit pay and extending the school year and school day, it seems a new contract won't be in place by the end of the school year.

PPS Chief Operations Officer Cathy Mincberg oversaw the privatization of the Houston Independent School District, leading to lower quality services and low-wage jobs. Now she wants the same for Portland.

SEIU Local 503 has a petition to support the custodians and food workers at seiuaction.org/campaign/ppsd0807.

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