Digest: Wednesday, January 19, 2022

City employees may strike as soon as Thursday

Union members working for the City of Portland are voting on whether to strike and results are expected late today. The District Council of Trade Unions, which represents most of the unions contracting with the City, reports that the City has violated state laws governing collective bargaining in a variety of ways. Among other things, the Oregon Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act prohibits managers from interfering with employees’ ability to exercise their rights, discriminate on any terms of employment to discourage union membership, and refusing to bargain in good faith — all of which DCTU President Rob Martineau alleges City managers have done.

“Telling workers represented by our union that they are not represented and cannot vote in this strike authorization, arbitrarily denying vacation requests made prior to any notice of intent to strike is given, while also conducting informal polls on our members’ protected union activity are clear violations of the law. It seems City managers are trying to create confusion and intimidate people. It won’t work.” Rob Martineau

DCTU has filed a complaint with the Oregon State Employment Relations Board, which must hold a hearing on the complaint within 20 days. In the meanwhile, the DCTU has launched a GoFundMe for a strike fund to cover union members’ lost wages in the event of a strike. In the event DCTU members don’t strike, any funds raised will be shared with other striking workers.

Grant students walk out over unsafe conditions

A group of students at Grant High School walked out on Tuesday to protest the lack of COVID-19 precautions at the school. Students are asking for N-95 masks for each student, as well as improved contact tracing. They also note that there is no way to social distance in the school’s hallways and that many students don’t wear masks at all.

The walk out comes on top of safety concerns from teachers and other staff members. School nurses working for Portland Public Schools released an open letter on Sunday, January 17. The letter takes the PPS board to task for blaming closures on staffing shortages, rather than COVID. It also notes that safety procedures are minimal and that school staff are stretched thin:

“The COVID-19 prevention strategies in place today, (including vaccination and boosters for eligible persons, universal indoor masking, testing, increased ventilation, physical distancing, and respiratory hygiene) are being undermined by the low up-to-date vaccination rates among the students and the inability to maintain the required 3 feet and 6 feet distancing. The reality is that the classrooms and hallways are crowded, windows are closed, HEPA filters are too few, masking is not of medical grade, children are testing positive at a rate that is too fast to track, the tests provided are expired, and staffing in every department is stretched too thin.” PPS school nurses in an open letter

PPS’ administrators have shown little empathy for staff and students’ needs, even going so far as to demand that teachers stop calling in sick over alleged organizing efforts last week. The school district has yet to provide proof of such tactics beyond a few conversations about the possibility of organizing such a plan in the future and the Portland Association of Teachers has pushed back against the allegations, calling them “insulting” and “demoralizing.”

Roughly one-third of students in the Portland area have moved to remote learning, but Grant High School remains in person at the time of writing this digest. Two high schools, Cleveland and McDaniel, returned to in-person learning yesterday and Jefferson High School is expected to also return to in-person later this week.

New judge appointed to Multnomah County Circuit Court

Governor Kate Brown announced plans to appoint Celia Howes as a judge for the Multnomah County Circuit Court. Howes will fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Eric Bergstrom effective at the end of January.

Bergstrom’s absence from the bench will be a win for Multnomah County: in 2021, he berated Therese Bottomly at The Oregonian for asking for a minimal amount of police accountability and for not running more positive articles about the police. Given The Oregonian’s generally supportive coverage of law enforcement officers, Bergstrom’s position places him far out to the right on a political spectrum. He was appointed to the Multnomah County Circuit in 2005 by then-Governor Ted Kulongoski. Bergstrom ran unopposed for his seat in both 2008 and 2012. His case load focused primarily on violent crimes.

Howe will run for election in the upcoming election cycle. She is currently a partner at Hoevet Olson Howes, focused on criminal defense. She received her law degree at the University of Oregon and has an extensive resume of legal work. Howes also hosts Voting Now, a podcast from the Oregon Bar Association and the Oregon Historical Society covering voting access.

By Thursday Bram

Thursday Bram founded PDX.Vote after making numerous zines, newsletters, and other media about politics in Portland, Oregon. Thursday has also written for publications ranging from Autostraddle.com to Entrepreneur Magazine. You can find more of Thursday's work at ThursdayBram.com.