Published: December 23, 2019

As teacher’s across the country fight to improve the conditions they work in, both for staff and for the students they serve, we often forget about the non-teaching staff that are essential to student success. 

The custodians and nutritional assistants at Portland Public Schools, represented by SEIU 503, have spent the second half of this year in a battle to address the low wages and increasingly difficult working conditions they face. These issues have led to staffing shortages that have left schools without proper cleaning, maintenance and food preparation staffing.  But after months of hard fought negotiations we have finally settled a Tentative Agreement (TA) with Portland Public Schools, and we won big! This is the best contract in a decade and will help address.

The Tentative Agreement between SEIU Local 503 and the Portland Public Schools includes:

  • New wage increases retroactive to July 1, 2019!
  • 5% increase for Nutrition Services Assistants, plus increases on July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021 to stay above minimum wage.
  • $1.59 per hour increase for Grade School and Middle School Leads by combining all Leads into one classification and pay rate, retroactive to July 1, 2019.
  • $1000 one-time bonus for High School Leads to account for wage rates not increasing this year. This is equivalent to about .70 per hour.
  • Almost 4% increase for all Leads on July 1, 2020, and 5% on July 1, 2021.
  • New longevity bumps for Nutrition Services at both 25 years and 30 years of service.
  • .50 per hour differential for Roving Leads.
  • Complete wage adjustment for Custodial the wage table by two steps, meaning every Custodian and every Head get around a  5% wage increase retroactive to July 1st, 2019, plus an additional step for anyone who is not topped out.
  • 3% wage increase for Custodians and a step for any who are not topped out on July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021.
  • Reviews and updates around building classifications.
  • Guaranteed ability to bargain health care costs from now on.

Employees at PPS have been organizing for over a year in the run up to this new agreement. This included packing school board meetings with dozens of people, sharing stories about the challenge of keeping schools safe while understaffed, sending emails and signing petitions, and getting the support of Portland teachers. SEIU members and the community came together to show PPS our strength, and permanently changed the course of our school system. 

Underfunding and understaffing has left Portland Public Schools in a crisis situation, where they are unable to fill open positions. This is what led to these new proposals, which the district hopes will help to fill those staffing gaps to increase the safety provisions our students rely on.

“It’s the best we’ve ever gotten. It’s the most money we’ve gotten for these employees in years,” says Tim Curtin, a custodian at Grant High School and a member of the union’s bargaining team.  “It should help with staffing as well by getting new people in the door. The goal is to get people in and get them to stay with these increases in wages. And hopefully we can even build towards more in the future.”

Now the tentative agreement will move on to ratification in the first half of January, before it has to be finally approved by the Portland School Board.