PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The union representing the Portland Public Schools office workers, educational assistants and para educators held a “practice picket” on Sunday outside Benson High School.
The Portland Federation of School Professionals (PFSP) said they have been “fighting for a contract that offers living wages and safe dignified working conditions,” but are now in mediation since they have not been able to secure a new contract.
“We shouldn’t have almost 50% of our support staff having to work two jobs just to afford to live in the city,” PPS Occupational Therapist Kyla Laraway said. “We are working on finding a fair contract after we’ve been in negotiations for almost a year without a proper contract. So we are here showing our support for that process and showing our solidarity.”
Those in the PFSP “are vital to the functioning of our schools and are also the lowest paid in the system,” organizers said.
Laraway said the PFSP is trying to match the same cost-of-living wage increases the Portland Association of Teachers fought for and secured in their new 3-year deal.
“I believe it’s still 6%, 4% and 3%,” she said. “We feel that it’s fair to have the same amount of cost-of-living increases that the teachers have had. We all work in the same area, so the support staff should be paid accordingly for the work that we do.”
“We want to be in the school supporting our students. We want to be paid fairly. We want our support staff to be trained appropriately beyond just non-crisis intervention. That’s not necessarily appropriately trauma informed,” said Laraway. “We need better training for our support staff, including for educators and instructional assistants and efforts. And we are fighting for every member of this group.”
“I just want to make sure that the district can see a support staff as essential and valid workers,” said para educator Yasmin Correa. “I think they don’t see us as equal and they don’t see us as knowledgeable. But we are.”
The “practice picket” was intentionally chosen to be at Benson High School, organizers said, to honor the solidarity of the construction workers during the PPS teacher strike in late 2023.
The PPS teachers strike lasted 26 days but only cost students 11 days of classroom time.
Organizers of the practice picket said they hope to avoid a second strike in the same school year. But a strike by PFSP is weeks away, at the earliest.
There is no strike authorization vote yet. The union said it is approaching the minimum of days spent mediating before an impasse is declared.