Construction workers have been onsite at Benson Polytechnic High School's inner Northeast Portland campus for more than two years, laboring away at the $300 million school modernization project set to be complete next summer. But in the last few days, workers at Benson have walked off the job in solidarity with members of the Portland Association of Teachers (PAT) and their ongoing strike. 

Throughout the Portland Public Schools (PPS) teachers' strike, currently on its sixth day, educators have picketed outside schools and held daily rallies across the city. Although Benson's NE campus hasn't been in use by PPS personnel and students since construction began, some teachers have held pickets outside the school grounds on NE 12th Avenue and Glisan Street anyway. In response, some of the hundreds of construction workers remodeling Benson have decided to walk off the job to support teachers. 

"People at the job site were very excited to see the teachers when they came out," one member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 48 told the Mercury. (He asked to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation.) "When we saw teachers picketing out front, many people picked up their stuff and left for the day. We're trying to build solidarity there." 

The IBEW electrician said hundreds of electricians, pipe fitters, sheet metal workers, and other construction workers left the Benson site this week. Some of them went to the PPS headquarters to rally with striking teachers. 

The Benson construction workers hope they can put more pressure on PPS management by showing their support for the teachers' union in this way. 

"We're trying to get our message to PPS. It costs them a lot of money every day to run this job site, especially if we're not there," the electrician said. "The hope for every worker on the job site is that [walking off] will put pressure on the district, and that PPS is listening to us honoring the teachers' picket." 

The electrician also said he thinks it's especially important for tradespeople working on Benson to show solidarity with teachers, considering the polytechnic high school will train future union tradespeople in their industries. 

"We can’t get labor for construction work unless we have polytechnic high schools like Benson to train people. We benefit directly from the work these teachers do to educate our children," he said. "It's good for business to meet the teachers' demands. We want the district to know we support the teachers—we aren't going to build this thing if y'all don't meet their demands." 

Another IBEW member, who also asked to remain anonymous, told the Mercury the last week has been "inspiring and beautiful." 

"I can see that all our workers' struggles are connected. Our cause is intersectional and international. People are starting to see in real and material ways how much power we have if we stand together in solidarity," they said. "The teachers, as they are wont to do, are giving us some very valuable lessons, and we can all stand to learn a thing or two from their example." 

Benson construction workers have planned an official demonstration of support for the teachers to take place next Wednesday, November 15, if the PAT strike isn't over by then. Workers plan to meet at the PPS headquarters building at 8:30 am to "tell PPS [they] support the teachers who will train the future essential workers who run this city." 

Construction tradespeople working at Benson aren't the only workers demonstrating their support for Portland's teachers during their strike. Large labor unions like Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 and Portland Federation of School Professionals (PFSP), both of which represent PPS workers, and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 5 have expressed solidarity with PAT members. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers, also shared a message of support for PAT. And members of smaller, younger unions are showing up to rallies in support of PPS educators, too.  

At a PAT rally in North Portland on Monday, November 6, members of the burgeoning Oregon chapter of the Uber & Lyft Drivers United union showed up to march for teachers. While labor unions for public school educators have been established in the United States for well over a century, gig workers like Uber and Lyft drivers are much less represented in organized labor. 

Members of Uber & Lyft Drivers United at a Monday rally. taylor griggs

Kerry Harwin, the communications representative for Uber & Lyft Drivers United, told the Mercury their union has been inspired by the Portland teachers' strike. 

"We would not be where we are today without solidarity," he said.