PPS chooses not to renew the Covid leave agreement for teachers and staff


courtesy of SEIU

Members of Service Employee International Union (SEIU) picketed in front of the Lincoln building during the open house, pushing for PPS to renew the Covid leave agreement

Nidha Eakambaram and Coral Platt

Over the summer, Portland Public Schools (PPS) decided not to renew Covid leave, which granted teachers and staff five days of paid leave in the event that they or their family tested positive. This sparked discussion among teacher and staff unions. 

In the PPS staff contract, there is language that protects teachers from loss of pay in the event of a “public health crisis.” During the pandemic, teachers and staff worked with PPS to ensure employees’ pay would be secure should they need to take time off for Covid. 

Now, if a teacher or staff member contracts Covid, they have to use their sick time and/or personal leave. If all of their paid leave gets used, then they may have to go without pay when taking time off due to illness.

“Teachers aren’t paid enough to be able to go without being paid [if they get Covid],” said Steve Lancaster, Lincoln teacher and bargaining chairperson for Portland Association of Teachers (PAT).

Amy Sylvia, co-chair of SEIU (Service Employee International Union) 503 Local-140, feels that PPS is being hypocritical. 

“They talk about inclusion and equity all the time,” she said. “I have three kids and [if they] get sick at different times, I have to choose between taking care of my kid or coming to work. I feel like PPS often says a lot, but they don’t necessarily back up what they’re saying.”

According to Will Howell, executive speechwriter for the district, PPS doesn’t feel as though there is a need to reinstate the Covid leave agreement now that cases have dropped and vaccines are accessible. He also mentioned that “offering unlimited paid sick time – a temporary measure during a global crisis – is no longer necessary or feasible.” 

Many teachers disagree and feel as though PPS is choosing the easier, cheaper option rather than the one that prioritizes staff.

“I wish that we could be on the same page when it comes to ensuring that both public safety is met and the needs of educators are being met,” Lancaster said. “Unfortunately, it seems like money is the only thing that matters, even if that comes at the expense of people.”

Over the past few months, teachers and staff have been picketing at various high schools – including Cleveland and Lincoln – to bring awareness to this issue. Lancaster explains the PAT’s next steps if PPS isn’t receptive to reinstating Covid leave.

“If the district doesn’t do the morally correct thing, then we will take the appropriate measures to protect our members,” he said.“Power concedes nothing without a fight.”