Not On Our Backs

With the failure of Measure 97, we must be vigilant in making sure that our state’s budget crisis isn’t solved on our backs. I’m horrified that our elected leaders are looking at changes to our PERS retirement system as their “funding solution”. 

On Monday, February 13th, I joined other public employees in Salem to speak out and rally against two senate bills. Here is the testimony I gave to the Senate Committee:

“My name is Suzanne Cohen and I am an educator in the Portland Public Schools, where I have been a special education teacher and middle school math and science teacher. Both, I might mention, are subject areas where school districts around the state are struggling to hire qualified educators.

I also currently serve as president of the Portland Association of Teachers, and I am a Tier 3/ OPSRP member.

I must say, I was completely shocked when I heard about SB 559 and SB 560. We aren’t talking about small tweaks to workers’ retirements here. We are talking about essentially doing away with public employee retirement benefits altogether. It’s shocking and outrageous. 


I find it beyond the pale to take away worker retirement now—after years of starving education and other public services, and imposing multiple rounds of cuts to our retirement benefits. Teaching is already a very difficult job, and its getting harder and harder to recruit new, talented professionals to the work. In Portland, housing costs are out of control. Even a simple one-bedroom apartment will cost well over $1000 a month in rent, but the starting salary for teachers is only $38,000.

How are public servants going to continue to make ends meet, let alone think about retiring with security and dignity some day? How are we going to recruit new special education teachers, speech pathologists, school counselors, school nurses, math and science teachers—educators in general—if you systematically chip away at the few benefits that we currently enjoy?

Meanwhile, Oregon continues to be the state with the lowest corporate taxes in the nation.  We need to get our priorities straight.  Please stop attacking the workers all Oregonians count on for our most vital public services.  Show true leadership: fix our tax structure and restore funding for key services.  Keep the promises you’ve made to Oregon educators and other workers, and do the right thing for all Oregonians.”

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Cohen
PAT President