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When the inclement weather shut down most schools for nine days, in addition to winter break and holidays, many employees started panicking about how they were going to make ends meet.

TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - Repeat winter storms brought heavy snowfall and ice that shut down schools in the region. That has a big impact on employees who work by the hour. The lowest-paid employees in area schools will likely have to make do with even less in coming months.

When the inclement weather shut down most schools for nine days, in addition to winter break and holidays, many employees started panicking about how they were going to make ends meet.

Belinda Reagan, head of the Portland Federation of School Professionals, said she got dozens of emails from worried union members, some saying they feared missing their house payment.

"We have a lot of sad people in our bargaining unit right now," Reagan said.

The federation, part of the AFL-CIO, represents what are called "classified" employees, a wide range of people such as classroom assistants, secretaries, therapists, security personnel and many more. The lowest wage for employees represented by this union is $13.48 per hour.

Under their contract, Portland Public Schools allows these employees up to five snow days to be paid out.

"When we went to the sixth snow day, my heart just sunk," Reagan said. "I thought: 'Oh my God, what are we going to do?'"

In some ways, those employees are lucky. Nutrition Services workers, who are paid even less, are not given any pay on snow days and do not accrue paid leave time. PPS and the food workers union are working on an agreement, however, no details were available by press time.

For the four days that aren't covered by the classified employees' contract, PPS asked its employees to use their three annual "personal emergency" days or vacation time if they want to be paid. Reagan says the vast majority of her membership does not get vacation time.

However, PPS has agreed to let employees mete out their unpaid days during the next four months so that the hit doesn't all come on this month's paycheck.

Teachers, who are represented in PPS by the Portland Association of Teachers, get their regular monthly salary — they get paid for snow days. The same applies to non-represented employees, such as managers.

It's worth noting that if makeup days are added to the end of the year, all employees who have been paid for snow days do not get additional pay and are expected to work those days. PPS, so far, looks to be adding three additional days to the end of the year.

"Having nine snow days is unbelievable," Reagan added. "I've been with the district many, many, many years and I don't remember anything quite like this."

The federation had asked the district to allow its members to use sick/family leave time for the extra days, but Oregon law defines sick time as for illness, injury, treatment or prevention thereof.

Custodial and maintenance staff are required to work on a regular most snow days — they only have one excused in the school year after a 2016 agreement. They must use vacation or personal days if they want to be paid. However, if the city or state call a state of emergency, the custodial staff is paid double their wage to show up.

At David Douglas School District in East Portland, classified employees get two snow days paid. After that, they may use up to five total personal or emergency days to make up for the loss, said spokesman Dan McCue.

"Anything after that, they don't get paid," McCue said, adding his belief that sick time can't be used for those days if the employee or their family are not sick. "That's not what sick days are for."

McCue said "essential employees," such as maintenance workers or custodians are sometimes asked to come in on snow days. When they do, they are paid time and a half, but if they can't make it they have to use paid leave hours or go unpaid.

David Douglas had not announced a plan for makeup days by press time.

"We're already sitting down with our union leadership, administrators and school board members, working out a plan for all of this," McCue said Wednesday. "If we were to add days at the end of the calendar, then teachers would come in and work those days, but they wouldn't get additional pay."

Those who went without pay on snow days, however, would get paid for the extra hours worked.

Shasta Kearns Moore
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