Solidarity With the DCU—Call, E-mail or Write Your School Board Today

by Steve, July 9th, 2007

So I went to the Portland Public Schools board meeting tonight, and sat through such things as interim superintendent Ed Schmitt singing praises of all the corporate advertising swag Nike is unloading on our kindergarteners, and human resources big dog Richard Clarke sprinkling his PowerPoint presentation with big-dog words like “systematize”, “preliminarily”, “dialoguing” and “evaluative”. It was Ruth Adkins’ first board meeting, so that was exciting, but the most interesting thing came at the end of the meeting, during the public comment session.

Teacher contract negotiations always get a lot of press, but not so for the skilled blue-collar tradesmen and craftsmen that literally keep our schools running. A dozen members of the District Council of Unions—steam fitters, carpenters, electricians and plumbers—came to plead their case to the board. They spoke movingly about their plight, a plight you will not read about in the Oregonian, the Tribune, the Willamette Week or the Mercury.

Having worked without a contract for over three years, these guys have reached an impasse with the district, which is refusing even a cost of living raise. That’s an effective pay cut over those three years. Final offers were exchanged and rejected on both sides, and a cooling-off period expired in early June.

It’s clear from their testimony that they like their jobs (even though staffing has been cut so severely that the district no longer does preventive maintenance and they’ve basically been doing nothing but emergency repairs for years), and they don’t want to go on strike. But they’re out of options, hence the direct appeal to the school board. Hopefully the board has learned from the debacle of outsourcing custodians, and will lean on their labor relations team to throw these highly-trained, dedicated guys a bone.

They actually seemed to have some support on the board, and I would encourage everybody who gives a rip about working people and the often appalling physical condition of our schools to contact the members of the school board and encourage them to deal with the DCU, offer a stinkin’ cost of living raise, and avert a strike. Considering all the money the district blew buying off Steve Goldschmidt, I don’t think this is too much to ask.

Contact information for the board can be found here.

6 Responses to “Solidarity With the DCU—Call, E-mail or Write Your School Board Today”

  1. Comment from Steve Buel:

    It is not much of a surprise that these people can’t get a fair shake from the school board — after all, what do they have in common with this group? The School Foundation and Stand for Children, the two groups who control the school board, undoubtedly don’t see any direct benefit to their kids or “their” schools particularly by having a fair settlement, in fact, just the opposite. More money to “laborers” means less money to something that more directly benefits upper middle class kids. Since they have the power, why give some of it up? In this world today, these actions make perfect sense.

  2. Comment from Himself:

    Actually, this was their first crack at appealing directly to the board. It’s the district’s labor relations team, led by Thomas C. Gunn, that’s been giving these guys the run around for three years.

    The real shame is that a lot of these skilled guys are in high demand in the open labor market. There’s already been a ton of attrition, and there will only be more if they can’t get a measly frickin’ cost of living raise. Which leads to the ironic conclusion that the district will be spending more on outside contractors to fill the gap if they keep jerking these guys around.

    Steve, you’ve got a point about SFC and PSF, but honestly, physical plant maintenance doesn’t respect class boundaries. All of our schools are in crappy condition, and they’re just getting worse. If we start bringing in $100/hr. contractors to replace light switches, how does that benefit Wilson and Lincoln over Jefferson? It’s just plain bad policy.

  3. Comment from Terry:

    Just came across this excellent piece. I watched the meeting last night on Ch 28 and was so disturbed that I e-mailed Ruth to see what she knew. Nothing apparently.

    I also was motivated to write my own take on what I saw. I just posted it on my blog.

  4. Comment from Terry:

    Here’s the message I fired off to Ruth:

    “Just saw the school board meeting and need to ask –what’s up with the maintenance department? Has the decision already been made to contract out their jobs? If so, I strenuously object. Hasn’t the district learned anything from the whole custodian fiasco?

    “You know, the citizen comment protocol really bothers me. Why can’t board members ask questions of those who testify? The silence of the board makes it seem as though none of the testimony has been heard, or if it has been heard, it’s totally ignored. Tonight’s testimony was highly reminiscent of the Jefferson reconfiguration hearings. Glenda Simmons never got a response, at least publicly, from either the board or the superintendent.

    “I know you’re the new kid on the block, Ruth, but maybe you could at least raise the issue of citizen comment to fellow board members. Some public give and take would be a really good thing.”

  5. Comment from Becky:

    Just a few nights ago I watched a really great film about outsourcing called The Navigators by Ken Loach. It made me sad and angry (but it is a very beautiful film – I just wish it was a total fantasy and not fiction based on reality.)

  6. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Dear Himself,
    It is not that it benefits SFC and PSF, it is they think it benefits them because they are told it will save money. How does it benefit the people in these organizations for the rotten middle schools in lower economic areas to keep churning out huge numbers of dropouts, kids on drugs, kids into alcohol, gang members, and early pregnancies. Wouldn’t you think they would figure out this is a terrible drain on the city where they pay taxes. But they don’t see it that way — all they see is fixing these schools will take resources away from their kids and their schools. This attitude is no different than the major corporations who continue to look at the short term agenda (the upper management pocketbooks) instead of what is good for the long run. I have a very good friend who taught for years and always complained about not being paid enough — until he retired and complained about having to pay too many taxes for schools. Same principle here.