Published: May 9, 2019

Yesterday, SEIU local 503 members from Portland Public Schools, Child Welfare, and other state agencies joined teachers from around the state in a historic day of action in support of fully funding education and state services.  Twenty-six public school districts and 600 schools around the state closed as teachers staged a walkout to highlight the need to shrink class sizes, fully fund staffing, and give our kids the education that will lead to long-term success.

For three decades, underfunding has forced legislators in Salem to pit education resources against the needs of other state services — a no-win situation for Oregon. SEIU Local 503 members are front and center in this fight because revenue for education will relieve the pressure on the budget and set the stage for us to make gains across the public sector.

SEIU Members from Portland Public Schools are front and center to this fight.  Both as nutritional assistants who prepare our student’s meals and custodians who maintain our educational facilities, they are often some of the lowest paid workers in Portland’s educational system.  They are joining the nationwide movement known as “Red for Ed,” a united front of faculty and staff who are fighting to reclaim a quality public educational system.

“I have kids at Portland Public Schools and I feel like the classroom sizes are way too huge,” Amy Silvia, a nutritional assistant for PPS.  “I wanted to show that our union, the nutritional assistants and custodians, support teachers just like they support us.”

The walkout, which coincides with National Teacher Appreciation Week, is focused primarily on the resources that Oregon schools have been lacking.  Shrinking class sizes, which sometimes balloon to over 45 students, and add essential staff like nurses, librarians, and nutritional and custodial personnel.  Right now there is only one nurse for every 5,481 students in public schools in Oregon and a total of 158 librarians for the entire state. Portland Public Schools, which serves 46,000 students, has critically understaffed custodial and nutritional positions, raising the rate of turnover as workers are often putting in grueling work days for little pay or appreciation.

“We don’t get paid that much and our job is really hard…and it is because we are underfunded,”  says Siony Lim, a PPS cafeteria worker.

“I came out here to support the teachers and the schools because I definitely think we need more funding, and being with SEIU and working for nutritional services feeding the future minds of America so we need the budget to do what we need…we are underfunded, understaffed, and have no respect,” says custodial SEIU leader Barbie Dice-Eisenbeis-Fraguadas.

In Portland, Oregon, well over 20,000 teachers, parents, students, and school staff overwhelmed Tom McCall Waterfront Park for a public rally in support of revenue and school funding.  With a revenue bill stalled at the Oregon State Legislature, teachers and public employees have found a united cause to stand up for ensuring that $2 billion in corporate taxes will fund critical services that families depend on.  

Public schools are not the only state agency fighting to ensure that they will be able to continue providing critical services.  The Department of Human Services’ Child Welfare division has been struggling with underfunding and understaffing, so much so that the foster care and child support systems have hit the verge of collapsing.  This is why Child Welfare workers have joined hands with Oregon teachers to reposition its priorities by taxing out-of-state corporations to keep services fully funded rather than passing the cost to marginalized communities and kids.

“I’m out here today to support the teachers because both DHS and the teachers are in this together,” says Antwon Irving, a Child Welfare worker with the Department of Human Services.  “We all need funding. Our children need funding so that they can have smaller class sizes, the books and the education they deserve. Child Welfare needs that funding so we can continue to provide services and resources and keep our Oregon children safe.”

Educators, school staff, and public employees are going to continue to grow this movement to reshape Oregon’s services, and ensure that staffing matches exactly what the kids need.  It is the quality of these services that is driving teachers and public employees, and it is the passion of these workers that is making them come out of the shadows to speak up for the children they serve.