Ashland schools staff reach tentative agreement – Medford News, Weather, Sport, Breaking News
The three-year contract would include cost of living adjustments, health care and other benefits for classified personnel
After a long impasse, graded employees at the Ashland School District have reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement with the administration.
Lisa March, president of the Ashland chapter of the Oregon School Employees Association, and Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove both briefed the Mail Tribune on the developments that took shape last week.
“I’m thrilled – and it’s a great relief. It’s been a long, hard fight since April last year,” said March, who is also the district’s administrator. “My members are super excited. I get a lot of texts and emails and calls. I just walked into my office and there’s a bouquet of flowers there.”
In an email, Bogdanove said the district was “excited” to have reached a tentative agreement, which must be voted on by union members and approved by the school board.
“The agreement, if ratified, will provide competitive pay and benefits that will help us hire and retain an amazing group of employees, which will make a huge difference to our children,” Bogdanove wrote. “I am grateful for the hard work and cooperation of everyone involved in the negotiation process.”
Terms of Agreement
If approved, the agreement would last three years and provide numerous benefits to classified employees during what has been described as one of the most challenging times in K-12 education due to the pandemic.
Highlights of the preliminary agreement presented by the district and union show that most classified employees for the 2021-22 school year would receive a 2.25% wage increase retroactive to July 1, 2021, the date the last agreement expired . After that year, they would receive 2.5% pay increases for the school years through 2024.
Meanwhile, other positions, such as B. education assistants or border guards, are paid $1.25 and $1 per hour, respectively, as these positions have been determined by the district to be difficult to fill or not competitive with surrounding districts.
The agreement would restructure the district’s model for longevity — the length of time Ashland School District employees stay on the job. For all classified employees who are eligible for this benefit, their earned lifetime is factored into hourly wages and used in calculating total hourly wages, including overtime, overtime and vacation time.
Other benefits of the tentative agreement include long-term disability insurance for all employees working 20 hours or more per week; a 403(b) Tax Shelter retirement program for employees who work 20 hours or more per week; and Indigenous Peoples Day as a paid holiday.
Becky Sniffen, a certified clerk who is a library assistant at Helman Elementary School, said it’s only fair that clerks like her get Indigenous Day off, since certified clerks already do.
Sniffen also spoke about some of the other parts of the agreement that she was “very relieved” about, including the 403(b) program.
“I think when you’re among the lowest-paid employees in an organization, to be able to have employer support while you’re trying to save money is a big, big deal,” Sniffen said.
She is also hopeful that positive information will emerge from a provision in the tentative agreement that calls for a third-party study comparing the compensation and performance of other school districts to Ashland.
March was effusive in her praise for other classified employees as she announced that a tentative agreement had been reached.
“Everything we’ve done to spread the word has worked; speaking at school board meetings, writing letters, wearing badges, speaking to the community, posting on social media and of course our informational picket line on Presidents Day,” she wrote to them in an email. “We, your negotiating team, were successful because you made your demands loud and clear.”
Sniffen, who was not part of the mediation, which took place virtually, thought the Presidents Day picket line was an important part of the contract negotiations.
“That kind of support felt really good and I think it really empowered our negotiating team and validated their efforts,” Sniffen said. “So when they walked up to that meditation table, they felt empowered.”
March’s praise of classified workers left out the story of the work it entailed for classified workers negotiating a contract with the district, which March detailed in an interview with the Mail Tribune.
The day after secret workers picketed district offices on President’s Day holiday, arbitration rounds began. The session was virtual and lasted a marathon of 12.5 hours, according to March.
“It was grueling but also exciting because after that rally we saw the district making moves that it had never made before — really a lot of movement,” she said. “They even sent us a proposal that morning before we started, so we started mediation with a new proposal from them to review and work from there.”
However, the union did not accept the district’s first offer.
“We sent it back with the motto, ‘We’ll take this, but we want this too,'” March said. “It was traded.”
She noted that it was the first time everyone did virtual mediation.
“We spent the whole day in a zoom room with our own team — I didn’t see the other party the whole time,” March said. “The mediator bounced back and forth between the two rooms with information.”
A “preliminary oral agreement” was reached ten hours after the mediation began.
“We just cheered and yelled,” March said. “Our lawyer said, ‘An oral TA is enforceable, but it’s better to have it signed.’ What would you like? We said, ‘We definitely want signatures.’”
But even after 90 minutes, according to March, the superintendent’s signature did not come. The mediator said Bogdanove wanted to double-check the document.
“(It) was frustrating because we spent all day working on it,” March said. “We didn’t get the signature until the next afternoon.”
Still, the tentative agreement was signed after clearing a small hurdle over some of the document’s language, according to March. She informed her secret associates on February 25.
As for the negotiations, March doesn’t believe the district took classified employees seriously.
“I can’t speak for them, but their actions and words showed a lack of respect for us as serious negotiators,” March said.
But, she conceded, the district came along and struck a deal. She attributed it to mediation.
“It’s a costly process and it’s unfortunate that we had to come to this, but mediation was very beneficial because the way we negotiated wasn’t working; It was a very dysfunctional process,” March said. “Mediation really helps us to organize ourselves better and gets us to work together.”
Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno