President's Message: Safety Updates

Dear Educator,

Once again, we are heading into an unprecedented school year. Despite our hopes and expectations that the worst of the COVID pandemic would be behind us by now, the Delta variant has upended everything in a matter of weeks. 

There is nothing we want more than a safe return to in-person instruction—we have been looking forward to it for almost a year and a half. But for the students we teach, their families, and all of our fellow PAT members, we have to get it right. 

Of course, many of the problems we are currently facing would be much easier to solve if we weren’t living with decades of disinvestment in our schools. For years, we have been advocating for smaller class sizes, safe school buildings, and social-emotional support for our students. We need these basic supports now more than ever.

Over the last month, the impact of the Delta variant has become undeniable. During this time, your PAT officers, bargaining team members, and staff have been working hard to ensure that we have strong safety agreements in place before the start of school. 

Here are some of the steps we have taken to maintain and to build on the agreements we made last spring:

  1.   On August 6, we notified PPS that if we do not update our standing agreement, our Spring 2021 Safety Letter of Agreement (LOA) will remain in effect.   
  2. Over the last two weeks, we surveyed all our members to identify the protections that are most important to PAT members, as well as gauge support for other safety measures that are recommended by the CDC or ODE. (More below on the PAT Survey results)
  3. We organized listening sessions with PAT members and PPS School Board directors so our elected leaders could hear firsthand what it will take to make this fall safe and successful.
  4. Based on member survey data, we have been in discussions with PPS about updating our existing LOA to preserve the safety measures we fought so hard for last year, as well as to incorporate new guidance and recommendations from the ODE and CDC.

One important update is the standard for social distancing. Last spring, we agreed that we would have 6 feet of physical distance per person in each PPS classroom. That standard is no longer supported by the CDC or state guidelines, both of which recommend 3 feet of physical distance where possible. 

Our PAT team has been clear that, in addition to maintaining previously agreed-upon safety standards such as universal mask wearing, testing and tracing, and adequate ventilation, our updated agreement must include the following:

  • Assurance of a minimum of 3 feet per person, rather than the looser standard of 3 feet “whenever possible”.  
  • That PPS open an online learning option to all students who want it.
  • That virtual positions go to educators who need a medical accommodation to teach virtually.  

By agreeing to those three conditions, as well as maintaining other safety standards from the spring, PPS would take a giant step toward ensuring safety and stability for students and staff in each building.  

Our hope is to come to a written agreement about these updates BEFORE students start school, and we will let you know as soon as we reach a deal with the District. At that point we will immediately implement a plan to explain the changes, answer questions, and support members and reps to enforce it. 

However, as of this evening, we do not have that written agreement. I will be addressing the school board tonight to publicly present PAT’s priorities for starting this year off right. (The school board meeting will begin at 6:00pm tonight- click here to watch.)

In order to secure a written agreement this week, our next steps may include taking legal action, which is likely to be a lengthy process, and organizing this week with fellow educators, parents, and community members to put pressure on the District, while we continue our talks. 

We know that there are MANY unanswered questions about how our schools will meet all of the recommended safety measures, including physical distancing, given the size of classroom spaces and the state of our buildings. However, we cannot continue to  treat teachers as the shock absorbers for a school system struggling to address a pandemic. That is not fair to our students, our communities, or to the educators who’ve been through so much during this pandemic. 

What is certain is that every safety measure we put in place now will help prevent disruptions all year long. We get one chance to reopen schools this year, and we have to do everything in our power to get it right. District leaders must have the courage to join together with teachers and families and do whatever it takes to ensure safety, stability, and equity for all students in this new school year. And we owe it to our communities to do everything we can on the front end to keep students safe before welcoming them back into our schools.  

In Solidarity,

 

Elizabeth Thiel

PAT President

 

PAT COVID-19 Safety Survey Results

Last week, over 2,300 PAT members took our COVID safety survey to help guide our work updating our Spring 2021 Letter of Agreement (LOA) on COVID safety and working conditions.

The results reveal a high level of unity around what we need to keep our students safe and maintain in-person instruction during this stage of the pandemic. You can see the complete results here.

Here are some of PAT’s highest priorities, based on your feedback:

More than 80% Strongly Support the following: 

  • Time to transition to Hybrid or CDL if conditions warrant it
  • Rapid symptomatic and screening COVID testing
  • HEPA air filters in all rooms
  • All students and staff wear masks
  • COVID outbreak notification 
  • A way to isolate without loss of pay

Additionally, more than 70% Strongly Support these protections: 

  • Protection against simultaneous online and in-person instruction
  •  Protection for distance protocols in all spaces
  • KN-95 masks for educators when students cannot wear masks
  • Online positions for educators who can’t work in-person,
  • Vaccine and testing clinics for schools that need them most
  •  Outdoors Student mask breaks 
  •  Vaccine mandate for students

Much appreciation to all of you who helped define our collective priorities by taking the survey. We are fighting hard for these additional protections as we discuss updating our COVID Safety LOA with the District. We are also using your feedback to advocate with the ODE, OHA, and local and state leaders for stronger protections for our students and school communities. 

What is Changing with Cigna? Update from the Health and Welfare Trust

Many of you have noticed a shift in the company that administers health insurance claims for the School District No. 1 Health and Welfare Trust. This fall, claims processing will shift from Providence and Regence to Cigna. The Kaiser “plan” is still administered by Kaiser. Understandably, some of you are worried about what that might mean for you. 

Our PAT/PPS CBA does not allow the Trust to change any benefit levels (unless required by law). The “maintenance of benefits” clause in Article 13 and in Appendix E bar the plan from any possible changes. 

This means that shifting administration to Cigna will not alter the terms of your medical plan. All of your benefits from last year are exactly the same under Cigna. This isn’t simply because of the maintenance of benefit clauses in our contract. The other reason is that, because of how the Trust works. PAT members don’t have a Providence or Regence “plan,” these insurance companies simply process claims which are paid directly by our Health and Welfare Trust, a process known as self-funding. Cigna is now taking over the claims-processing function that was being carried out by Providence and Regence.

If you have a doctor who does not currently work with Cigna, the Trust will work with your provider to find ways to ensure your claims can get processed. Keep in mind that since you don’t really have a Cigna “plan”, the in-network doctors on the Cigna website don’t represent the providers who are in the Trust’s network. 

More information about the change to Cigna will come from the Trust over the next few months.  Look for those emails and mailings so you stay fully informed. 

If you’re interested in more details on how the Trust operates, keep reading.

Understanding How Our Health and Welfare Trust Operates

The Trust is a formal partnership, separate from PPS, PAT, PFSP, DCU or ATU (the organizations who participate in it). As an independent legal entity, the Trust works to meet the needs of the members represented by the participating unions, all of whom are (or were) employed by PPS. It is required to follow the terms of the individual collective bargaining agreements of each participating union, and is governed by its own Trust Bylaws, as well as by federal and state insurance, tax, and other laws.  Trustees from each participating organization oversee the financial well-being of the Trust’s plans, so that members receive the highest level of benefit at the lowest cost.

Our Trust has been in existence for over forty years.  Over time, the Trust decided that for the benefit of members, the Trust would be primarily self-funded. That means that the Trust no longer purchases insurance plans to offer members. Instead, the Trust itself pays each insurance claim made by any covered member or their dependents.  By doing this, any employer contributions or individual premiums not directly used to pay a claim can be invested, and the profits from those investments used to reduce the cost of next year’s insurance premiums. 

With over 9,000 people covered by the Trust, there are so many claims each year that it is necessary to hire an insurance company (sometimes more than one) to simply process these claims. Insurance companies are willing to sell this service to the Trust because they get a very small fee with zero risk, since the Trust is paying the costs of each claim. 

After Providence and Regence refused to reduce their administrative fees for next year, the Trust put the job of administering its claims out for an open bid.  After many meetings, and presentations from many different insurance companies, the Trust selected Cigna as our new claims processor.

Over the years, this system of self-funded insurance has provided PAT members with the most stable benefits at the lowest costs of any school system in Oregon. In fact, many times over the years the Trust has been required by OEBB to prove that our benefits were better than the OEBB plans at a comparable or a lower cost. If the Trust failed to meet this standard, the State would have required the Trust to dissolve and PAT members would have had to become part of OEBB. Thankfully, the Trust has performed so well that we have always been able to meet the State’s test, and we continue to enjoy some of the most comprehensive, lowest-cost benefits in the state.

PAT Advocacy Cadre: Member-to-Member Support for Your Contract Questions

We will have our first Advocacy Cadre Hotline of the academic school year on August 30th, 2021. The Advocacy Cadre is a group of member-educators who will work closely with the UniServ Consultants to become experts on our contracts, and to support members who need help navigating the specific language contained in our union contracts. 

Prior to contacting the Cadre Hotline, members should first speak with their building representative. 

PAT Advocacy Cadre Hotline Hours: Mondays, 5:00-6:30 PM 

Zoom Drop-In

Email: [email protected]

You can send an e-mail to the cadre at any time, but they will only be responding during Monday hotline hours. If you have an issue that requires more immediate attention please first contact your building representative or your UniServ Consultant.

This program is designed to expand our contract advocacy and provide the tools and education members need to feel empowered to enforce their contractual rights in their buildings. 

 

PPS Vaccine Mandate: Next Steps

PAT members overwhelmingly support a vaccine mandate for educators and PPS staff, and see it as one crucial step towards creating safe and stable schools in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Last Tuesday, PPS announced that all PPS employees are required to be vaccinated or submit to regular testing. The next day, Governor Brown announced a state-wide mandate that all school employees and healthcare workers be vaccinated by October 15. The rules from the state, when they are announced, will determine how this mandate will be implemented.

We recognize that this mandate may create questions for some PAT members, as well as members of our sister unions in PPS, which include PFSP, DCU, ATU, and SEIU 503. We are working together with all our PPS union siblings to coordinate negotiations with PPS over the impact of the vaccine mandate, and make sure agreements are in place to support workers getting vaccinated, as well as those who qualify for medical or religious exemptions. 

We do not yet have any information from PPS about how to show proof of vaccination, or how to claim a medical or religious exemption, but will share with you that information as soon as we have it. 

Finally, this week the FDA announced full approval for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for people ages 16 and up. This is an important step towards the possibility of adding the COVID-19 vaccine to the list of vaccines required for students. We are pushing state leaders to clarify the process for doing so as soon as possible.

Introducing Your PAT Leaders

PAT is a democratic union, and we have many elected leaders who share the responsibility for guiding our work as an association. We are fortunate to have such a talented and collaborative team of leaders. Learn more here.

PAT Officers

  • President: Elizabeth Thiel, English teacher, Madison High School
  • Vice President: Gwen Sullivan, Library Media Specialist, Chapman Elementary School
  • Interim Treasurer: Tina Lamanna, 2nd Grade, Markham Elementary School
  • Secretary: Alisha Chavez, Special Education Teacher, Atkinson Elementary School

Executive Board Directors-at-Large

  • Beyoung Yu, ELL, Rosa Parks K-5, Liaison to Zone 1
  • Vincent Chirimwami, Special Education teacher, Faubion K-8, Liaison to Zone 2
  • Greg Burrill, Substitute Teacher, Liaison to Zone 3
  • Jacque Dixon, Language Arts Teacher, DART, Liaison to Zone 4
  • Shannon Foxley, Counselor, Da Vinci MS Liaison to Zone 5
  • Angela Bonilla, Instructional Coach, Scott K-5, Liaison to Zone 6
  • Rachel Hanes, 2nd Grade teacher, Glencoe ES, Liaison to Zone 7
  • Tina Lamanna, 2nd Grade teacher, Markham K-5, Liaison to Zone 8
  • Mike Bauer, Social Studies teacher, Cleveland HS, Liaison to Zone 9

OEA Board Directors

  • Russ Peterson, Social Studies teacher, Grant High School
  • Gwen Sullivan, Library Media Specialist, Chapman ES
  • Matthew Oleson, Online Learning Academy

JOIN A PAT COMMITTEE!

PAT is known around the state and country for being a strong and powerful union.  Part of what makes this possible is the strength of our committees within the union.  Our committees give members a way to be involved based on their own interests.  Most of our committees are open to all members. Interested in joining one of our committees, please let us know here!   Your voice will make a difference. 

The Advocacy Committee defends your rights in contract administration meetings and grievances, addresses district-wide issues such as safety and workload, and informs the bargaining team and helps shape many of our bargaining priorities. 

The Bargaining Committee supports our PAT Bargaining team with research, ideas, and the perspectives of educators in a large cross-section of our our schools, roles, and experiences. 

*Social Justice and Community Outreach Committee members strengthen ties with other labor and community organizations and conduct open forums on topics like Special Education, Immigration Rights and Climate Justice.

*The Racial Equity Committee is an affinity space for educators of color whose goal is to build organizational capacity within PAT to honor, acknowledge and center the lived experiences and stories of educators, along with students of color, within our union and inside PPS. 

*The Substitute Teacher Committee discusses best practice for substitute teachers and supports the bargaining team. Their work, along with our collective efforts, helped PAT win the strongest Substitute Teacher contract in Oregon.

*The Membership Committee offers workshops to help PAT members with issues such as student loan forgiveness, retirement planning, and interview skills for the transfer process. It also plans member activities such as the annual PAT “Party in the Park” and Retiree Reception.

*The Instructional and Professional Development Committee meets with PPS leadership monthly to advocate for better district-wide programs for all PAT members. This committee works on teaching and learning problems and solutions.

*The Legislative Committee works to support local legislation, elected leaders, and candidates for elected office who share our values, so that educators can influence our government to recognize the needs of our students and our profession.

The Nominations and Elections Committee ensures that each PAT member has a fair and easy process when we’re electing PAT leaders or ratifying collective bargaining agreements. 

Committees with an * are open to all members to attend. Meet the committee chairs and learn more on our website.

OEA Training Opportunities for New Educators

OEA is launching an exciting new series that will be covering a myriad of topics for new Educators all year. Please see their website for more details and to register. Please see the OEA Calendar for all the other upcoming events and training opportunities available through OEA.