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About Northwest labor press. (Portland , Ore.) 1987-current | View Entire Issue (June 16, 2006)
People, not statistics, lose their livelihoods to privatization
Four years ago, Portland Public
Schools fired its 330 custodians and re-
placed them with lower-wage con-
One of the fired custodians was Bob
Sykes, lead custodian on the night shift
at Vernon Elementary School in North-
Vernon principal Linda Wakefield
sent him off with a tearful farewell and
a glowing letter of recommendation.
Sykes had a wife and a 14-year-old
son to provide for, and losing a job that
paid $15 an hour was a blow.
“They broke our contract. I feel like
what they did was wrong,” he said.
Sykes says he spent about six
months on unemployment, and longer
A representative of the janitorial
hired; he now earns $15.70 an hour as
night custodian at William Walker Ele-
Local 140 fought the firings through
the court system. Last December, the
Oregon Supreme Court ruled the firings
were illegal. Portland Public Schools is
expected to offer reinstatement to the
custodians next month.
Now 47, Sykes says he’d like to go
back to work at Portland Public
Schools. He says he likes Walker, but
not the commute.
But the way back is still uncertain.
Like others, he’ll wait to hear what the
district has to offer.
contractor, Portland Habilitation Cen-
ter, had assured the Portland Public
Schools Board that fired custodians
could apply for jobs (though of course
at a fraction of their former wages and
benefits). Sykes says he made a number
of inquiries, but got the runaround. He
felt PHC wasn’t interested in hiring
him, though he was a 14-year employee
of the district.
“They made excuses,” Sykes says.
PHC spokesperson Mike Delman
says out of the 330 custodians, only one
ended up working at PHC.
Sykes found work at a warehouse,
then signed on as an on-call custodian
for Centennial School District in South-
He’d been a regular at School Em-
ployees Local 140 union meetings, and
A B S O LU T E B EG IN N E RS
G UI D E T O R EA L ES T A TE
I N VE S TI N G
It’s time to make Labor Day picnic plans
Mark your calendars for Monday,
Sept. 4 — date of the annual Labor Day
Picnic sponsored by the Northwest Ore-
gon Labor Council.
Oaks Park in Southeast Portland has
been booked, and union locals are re-
serving space for what is the largest La-
bor Day bash in Oregon.
The Labor Council will sell food
scrip for 25 cents each. Three scrip will
get you a hot dog and chips, two scrip a
soda pop, and four scrip a beer.
A deluxe ride bracelet costs $8.25
and is good from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. This
year the roller rink will be open for
those with ride bracelets.
Many unions also host special events
for their members. Check for details
with your local.
For more information, or to purchase
scrip, contact the Labor Council at 503-
Former Portland Public School employee custodian Bob Sykes says he would
like to return to his old job at Vernon Elementary School.
kept in touch with his former co-work-
ers. Some didn’t make it. Abernathy El-
ementary School custodian James
Granville, a friend of Sykes, died of
heart failure not long after the firings. It
was the district’s heart that failed, but
Granville felt the pain of it, he had told
Sykes at a church picnic.
Local 140 folded after the firings. It
later merged with a sister local, Service
Employees Local 503.
Eventually, Sykes heard from a
friend about a custodial job at Beaver-
ton School District. He applied and was
Palm Springs, June 2006
Portland, July 2006
Seattle, August 2006
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JUNE 16, 2006
NORTHWEST LABOR PRESS
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