Fighting for Education Workers at the Capitol

OSEA’S 2023 Legislative Priorities

Blue shield with yellow trimPicture this: Oregon is a state that values education and the front-line workers who make it possible. With full funding, our schools and education programs are the best in the country. Dedicated, trained and knowledgeable workers support student learning; whether they work directly with students or behind the scenes, these workers are treated with respect and paid a competitive wage that reflects their important role.

That is OSEA’s vision for Oregon. With the 2023 legislative session in full swing, OSEA members and staff are hard at work advocating for the changes our state needs for a better future. The legislative priorities outlined here are just the beginning!

As an OSEA member, you can help us achieve this vision. Your voice and your story are powerful. Together, we can win real changes that will impact education workers, our students and our communities.

Workers' Basic Rights

Just Cause for All

balance scaleIt shouldn’t be controversial to assert no worker should be fired without justification, right? Most OSEA chapters’ collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) include “Just Cause” provisions, guaranteeing that employers demonstrate a clear process and adequate reason for employee discipline including termination. Just Cause also provides for opportunities to learn and grow a dialogue between employer and worker — important in any work setting, but particularly vital for a sector like public education, which is having great difficulty recruiting people to fill classified positions.

But there are still many OSEA members in the public sector working in good faith without Just Cause protection, effectively making them “At Will” employees. So, they can be fired at any time for almost any reason or no reason at all. It is time for the state to ensure all education employees have the peace of mind they deserve.

Just Cause is a clear process to ensure a worker is treated fairly and equitably. The 7 steps of Just Cause are:

  1. Was the employee adequately warned of the consequences for their conduct?
  2. Was the employer’s rule reasonable?
  3. Did the employer conduct a fair and thorough investigation?
  4. Was the employee afforded due process?
  5. Did the employer establish substantial evidence of wrongdoing?
  6. Did the employer apply the rules even-handedly to all employees? And (7) Was the degree of discipline reasonably related to the seriousness of the offense and the employee’s work record?

At a time when classified school employees are in high demand and short-staffed, public employers should be required to provide both clear expectations and transparency that will best ensure fair and equitable treatment.

Equal Access to UI Benefits

meeting iconIn recent years OSEA members have won access to unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for custodial, facilities, maintenance, food service, prekindergarten and early intervention education workers. It’s time for the Legislature to expand equal access to UI to all education workers!

Right now, desperately needed bus drivers, special education assistants and other classifications are unable to claim UI benefits during school breaks if their employer claims they have “reasonable assurance” of a return to work after the break. Public school employees should be able to access UI benefits like any other type of Oregon worker — including employees of private schools and education contractors. Access to unemployment insurance is a basic worker protection that can only be provided by a legislative change similar to our previous wins.

Representation on Boards & Commissions

OSEA members have key perspectives on education system issues and policies, particularly regarding implementation. We are the special educators, secretarial staff, educational assistants, bus drivers, custodians, IT staff, food service workers, early childhood educators and community college classified workers. As front-line experts, we should also be appointed to positions on state policy boards and commissions alongside other education professionals to provide insight on education policy and improve governance and the public education system.

Funding Oregon's Future

Sustainable K through 12 Funding

books and a graduation cap stackedOSEA members know that the most effective way to support students’ needs — physical, mental, emotional, behavioral and academic — is by supporting our current education workforce and demonstrating that public education jobs can be high quality jobs again. Oregon’s students and their families are navigating homelessness, food insecurity, and issues of access and inclusion, in addition to many institutional barriers. Students’ needs have become more numerous and more severe due to the pandemic’s many impacts, and Oregon must respond by investing in the educators needed to support all of Oregon’s kids.

The most immediate and impactful way for Oregon to keep the educators we have, and encourage new workers to join them, is to fund the actual cost of continuing education’s current services and pay workers living wages with benefits. OSEA members choose to work in public education because we love supporting all Oregon students. The best education comes from dedicated professional educators. Years of unrealistic budget estimates based on historic trends have artificially lowered the “current service level” budget for K-12 schools. So it’s no surprise that, over time, districts across the state have struggled to recruit and retain high-quality educators. The pandemic made the struggle a full-blown crisis because students need more support than ever before from us.

The state-wide staffing crisis places experienced educators, especially in classified jobs, at risk as they lead on the front-line. Unsafe staffing levels undermine Oregon students, many still far from recovered from the effects of the pandemic. Right now, Oregon’s students need consistent funding so, together, our K-12 professionals can provide durable support for the deeper and more numerous needs, while preserving their own well-being.

Support Package for Classified Workers Who Support Special Education

puzzle pieceOSEA’s recent “Work Shouldn’t Hurt” survey showed workers who support special education (SPED) programs are at a higher risk of injury than others. The survey results reflected 40 percent of respondents said they had been injured while supporting a student with high needs. There are clear steps the state can take to minimize injuries. To deliver the best support for all Oregon students, employees who support SPED need:

  1. Access to relevant information, including individual education plans (IEPs) and paid time to prepare for working with the assigned students;
  2. Access to adequate training and appropriate equipment;
  3. Compensation at a level that is competitive with other industries and reflective of the skill needed to do this work well — including a pay differential that increases with skill level to recognize the challenges in these positions; and
  4. Minimum staffing levels to support these critical front-line workers and, more importantly, to ensure all students, including students with the most significant needs, are supported.

Currently, Oregon schools are struggling to recruit and retain classified staff, especially those who support special education. OSEA members have stayed in service to our students throughout the pandemic. The state needs to invest in SPED now, to best ensure we can provide the quality education and respect our students and members deserve. Oregon can do better to provide equal education to all students with special needs by supporting the front-line workers who are the hands-on caregivers to some of Oregon’s most medically and economically fragile students. Upon passage, this special education support package will strengthen the daily needs of both students and staff.