Classified employees plead with board before mediation

School District 55’s classified employees picketed outside the Central Office Monday night prior to the regular board meeting and a presentation asking the board to abandon its offer of a three-tier plan for raises.

Classified personnel are negotiating a new contract with the school board. The two sides will enter mediation Thursday. A number of issues, including pay, health insurance and use of sick leave remain unresolved.

Some 70 to 75 classified association members, their family members, friends and Oregon State Employees Association representatives filled the board Monday night presenting the school board with their position.

Among them, classified employees asked the board to continue the “me-too” clause for insurance caps. Under the existing agreement, classified employees automatically receive the same increases to their insurance cap that the teachers and administrators receive.

The district has offered caps of $439, $454 and $485 over the three years of the contract with the removal of the me-too clause. Over those three years, the association has proposed insurance caps of $439, $454 and $500. The previous contract expired on June 30.

Lisa Gourley talked about how different employees perform a number of duties beyond their job descriptions and pleaded with the board to forget its three-tiered approach.

The district’s bargaining team has offered to increase the pay for below-average employees by 2.2 percent, 3.5 percent and 3.5 percent over the three years of the contract; 2.2 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent for employees at the average pay for their classification; and 2.2 percent, 2 percent and 2 percent for those employees who are paid above average for their classification based on a study conducted during negotiations.

The association is asking for raises of 3 percent, 4 percent and 4 percent for all employees in each year of the contract.

“They’re all professionals,” Gourley said. “These are the people who were the best when they were hired.”

Their skills didn’t decrease, but rather, they have improved, Gourley said. The three-tier offer does not reflect this. “It is not fair to give some an increase when we all have a cost of living increase.”

Michelle King related to the board how her daughter had broken her neck and back two years ago in an accident. She had to take time off under the current contract which allows the use of sick leave for family members. She had to spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week with her daughter while she was in the hospital.

Under the contract, she was able to take the time without having to worry about her wages at a time that medical bills were stacking up into the thousands of dollars, she said. “I would rather see that. People said they’d have to lie about that. That’s not me.”

“When school districts run well, they are like a three-legged stool,” OSEA Field Representative Marilyn Thielke said. “Three legs, administrators, teachers and classified supporting the mission of the school district, that’s what it is all about. Weaken one of the legs and the stool topples over.

“Classified employees are part of that equation. We don’t get much press. We are the first to suffer in times of financial stress, and heaven knows we are paid far less than either of the other two groups. The truth is that classified employees serve a vital function in this and every other school district. They are also community members, voters, parents, grandparents and customers. Every dollar they earn is spent four times before it leaves the community.”

Thielke said that supervisors in the district have intimidated and threatened union members by suggesting the possibility of contracting out for services or telling them they will not have a job if they choose to strike. She also told the board that the union does not need permission or approval to engage in contract campaign activities and would like to believe that the board will respect the union’s right to campaign.

“Your classified employees are as dedicated to their jobs s any other Sweet Home School District employee,” Thielke said. “They are anxious for a fair contract settlement and look forward to once again devoting all their attention to doing the best they can for the students of Sweet Home.”

“We’re doing what we can within the constraints of the budget,” board member Don Hopkins, who is serving on the district bargaining team, said. “We’re looking at a million-dollar shortfall, and we want to be fair to all employees.”

Chairman Milt Moran took exception to the use of the term “fight” being applied to the negotiations.

“I don’t look at it as a fight,” Moran said. “It’s a negotiation, and the board wants a settlement just as bad as the classified folks. It’s best for all of us to get it done. All the ladies that described what they do and their concerns, they have been very well taken by the board.”

Members of the classified association “mentioned they would like to get the negotiations over with early,” board member Bob Pascalar said. The board had a goal to complete negotiations by August. That they were not completed by August was not the board’s fault.

There were a number of persons at the meeting Monday night whom Pascalar would like to have seen at the negotiations, which were open to the public. The issues discussed Monday night were discussed between the bargaining teams during those sessions.

“The comments that we don’t respect them are off the mark,” Pascalar said. All of the board members respect the classified employees.