Demand for additional sick leave surfaces in unfair labor practice complaint.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Portland teachers union has filed a complaint with the Oregon Employment Relations Board, claiming that Portland Public Schools is violating state law with its proposal to give substitute teachers five days of sick leave per year under Oregon's 2016 paid-sick-leave law. The union argues that substitutes are eligible for at least 10 sick days per year under an earlier, more generous state law.The Portland Association of Teachers has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against Portland Public Schools on behalf of substitute teachers.

And while the complaint has no direct connection to ongoing contract negotiations between the district and full-time teachers, who have a separate contract from substitutes, its filing it the latest signal from the teachers' union that it's frustrated with PPS.

Earlier this month, the president of the Portland Association of Teachers union, Suzanne Cohen, said full-time teachers were preparing for the worst possible outcome as their talks with the district entered mediation, a step that raises the threat of a strike this fall. The move came after PAT filed an unfair labor practice complaint on behalf of full-time teachers on May 25.

The latest complaint, filed July 13 with the Oregon Employment Relations Board, says Portland Public Schools is violating state law with its proposal to give substitute teachers five days of paid sick leave per year under Oregon's 2016 sick-leave law. The union says substitute teachers are entitled to a more generous minimum of 10 days of paid sick leave under a separate and earlier Oregon law that covers all school employees, including substitutes.

In its seven-page complaint, PAT says PPS has offered no explanation to the union for why it believes the more generous state law—ORS 332.507—doesn't apply to substitute teachers.

"The PAT explained repeatedly to the district, through counsel and otherwise, that ORS 332.507 clearly applied to substitute teachers, but the district failed to respond or provide any contrary authority," the union wrote in its complaint.

Laird Cusack, senior director at PPS for employee and labor relations, said Tuesday that PPS has never based sick leave for substitutes on the more generous state law and that he knows of no Oregon district that does. "We don't think it applies," he said. "We think the new sick-leave law is appropriate."

The union is now asking the state's Employment Relations Board to intervene, ordering the district to "withdraw its unlawful sick leave proposals."

John Berkey, a representative with the teachers union, says the two sides are seeking clarification on the issue from the state. Substitutes have to work a certain number of days in order to qualify for full-year insurance coverage, which means getting sick could have the perverse effect of delaying that milestone, Berkey said.

The teachers' union filed a separate unfair labor practice complaint in May on behalf of full-time teachers, alleging among other things that PPS violated a provision of the current contract that limits teachers' workload. The two sides have not resolved that dispute.

Beth Slovic
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