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About Northwest labor press. (Portland , Ore.) 1987-current | View Entire Issue (Aug. 4, 2006)
After being illegally fired in 2002
Portland school custodians’ return murky
Eight months after the Oregon
Supreme Court ruled that privatizing
Portland Public Schools custodial de-
partment was illegal, details about the
custodians’ return to work are still
Just over a month before the school
year begins, it wasn’t clear how many
of the roughly 330 custodians the dis-
trict fired in August 2002 would choose
On July 6, the district sent a letter to
the attorneys representing the custodi-
ans. The letter announced an offer to
“recall” them to their former positions,
and imposed a deadline of July 20 for
individuals to accept the offer.
That deadline was extended to July
28, and again to Aug. 4.
CUSTODIAN CIVIL SERVICE EXAMINATION
PORTLAND PUBLIC SCHOOLS
Aug. 19 & 29, 2006
Benson High School Cafeteria
546 NE 12th Ave. Portland
Sign in at 9:00 AM
The PPS Custodians Civil Service Board (CCSB) will
conduct a Custodian Civil Service examination on each
of the above dates for the purpose of qualifying a pool
of candidates for potential employment as custodians
within the Portland Public School system.
Preregister for an exam via the Portland Schools
Human Resources Web site (www.hr.pps.k12.or.us).
Go to the Employment Opportunities section and scroll
to the Civil Service Exam link. Or, if preferred, register
upon arrival at Benson on the day of the test. All
applicants are required to provide photo ID verification
on the day of testing.
Additional information is available via the Human Re-
sources Web site.
Portland Public Schools is an equal opportunity
educator and employer.
Attorneys representing custodians
maintain the district had no authority to
impose a deadline for the acceptance of
reinstatement offer. But they and the
steering committee elected by the ter-
minated custodians to oversee their re-
turn plan to cooperate and try to meet
the deadline. They think over half may
agree to return; a better number will be
available Aug. 4.
Some details emerged when steering
committee chair Steve Armony had his
first meeting July 26 with his district
counterparts — Jim Christensen, hired
to manage the transition, and Randy
Thomas, custodial service manager.
The district has signed a contract with
PHC, the current janitorial contractor,
to use its supervisors until December.
Once the district has determined how
many custodians want to return, it will
fill positions in order of seniority, and
then hire to fill any still-vacant posi-
tions. New hires will have to pass a civil
service exam. The goal is to get every-
one on the job before school begins
Sept. 6. Once all positions are filled, the
workers will choose a contract bargain-
ing team, which will be joined by a
staffperson from their union, Service
Employees International Union Local
The chief hurdle to returning, Ar-
mony says, is that it’s tough for custodi-
ans to make a decision when they don’t
know what they'll be returning to.
“It ain’t gonna be like the old days,”
Armony said. “They’ll have to be more
of a united union than ever to go back to
work for the school district.”
The district said it would pay them
their old salaries, plus the same per-
centage increases that were given to the
district’s cafeteria workers over the last
four years. Armony and the attorneys
reject the idea that raises negotiated for
one group can apply to the other, but
agreed to settle that dispute once custo-
dians are back to work.
In any case, that pay will last only
until a new union contract is negotiated.
And the district shows every sign of re-
turning to the hardball bargaining
stances it had in the past.
This time, the district may bargain in
a hurry. In recent bargaining with cafe-
teria workers and office support staff,
the district dragged its feet and held off
for six months before giving its wage
and benefit proposal. The custodians,
on the other hand, have been given a de
facto proposal before they return to
work, and before their bargaining team
has been selected. The custodians won’t
be district employees — or union mem-
bers — until they formally accept rein-
statement and return to work.
The district is proposing to pay cus-
todians what the employees of PHC, the
private contractor, were paid — $10.55
an hour for “day custodians” and
$10.35 an hour for “night janitors.” In
other words, the district will pay custo-
dians $14.56 to $22.71 upon return
(presumably because it’s legally obli-
gated to) and then propose to cut that
salary a third to a half.
Four years ago, the district proposed
a cut of nearly as much, asking custo-
dians to absorb $4.5 million in wage
and benefit concessions out of a total of
$15.6 million. PPS didn’t budge from
that offer in six months of negotiations.
Faced with the threat of privatization,
the union bargaining team agreed to ac-
cept $2.4 million of that cut, but the dis-
trict decided to pursue the whole $4.5
million cut by outsourcing the depart-
Armony said he expects bargaining
will again be hard-fought when custo-
This time, it’s clear the district can’t
legally privatize. But it can declare im-
passe and impose its offer, if and when
bargaining breaks down. Then the
union would be faced with the choice to
strike or take concessions.
The PPS Board has asked district
management to keep the custodial de-
partment budget to $16 or $17 million.
Four years ago it was $18 million. In all
likelihood, there will be fewer custodi-
ans to do the same work.
That’s the future the custodians
would return to. It’s no wonder many
are hesitant to return.
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