Classified, school board negotiating full contract

Sean C. Morgan

The Oregon School Employees Association Sweet Home Chapter and School District 55 are planning meetings through November to settle a new contract with the school districts classified employees.

The association and district are negotiating a new contract to succeed a five-year contract that expired on June 30.

The school district is gathering data from other school districts on wages and job descriptions to determine where Sweet Home employees are in relation to the average. In conjunction with the school district’s efforts, the association is gathering similar information from the Linn-Benton-Lincoln Education Service District, Oregon State University, Linn-Benton Community College and municipal and county agencies.

The school board has set a goal of bringing its employees to average for their job markets. For the classified employees, the school district and association have turned to employers within 40 miles of Sweet Home.

The information on the nearby school districts is nearly complete, school board negotiator Ron Wilson, of the Oregon School Boards Association, said.

Association Representative Janet Gilman will seek data from cities and counties in that range to help complete the study.

The two groups met to negotiate on Aug. 28.

In addition to salaries, bargaining teams for the classified association and the school board discussed several articles, reaching tentative agreement on Article III of the contract, separability of the contract, allowing the contract to remain in the event a provision in the contract is declared invalid.

Among the issues on the table are procedures for filling vacancies, governing when the district may advertise outside of the district to draw candidates for a position.

Current language requires the district to hire the most senior candidate if three or there are three or more qualified applicants in the district already. The district is proposing to allow the district to advertise outside the district to hire “the best qualified for the position.”

Under the current language, the district would be required to fill a secretary position from within the district if there were two or three secretaries with two or three years experience, for example, Business Manager Russell Allen. The district would not be able to look at the hypothetical secretary who recently moved the area from Wilsonville with 20 years experience.

If candidate qualifications are close, under the proposed language, Allen said, the district would fill a vacancy internally.

“Restricting who the district has the ability to look at is a fundamental problem for us,” Wilson said.

Gilman told the board that the association does not want to change the language to prevent hiring qualified employees.

“We want seniority preference for qualified employees,” Gilman said, with the district discovering who is qualified then selecting the most senior.

The school district also proposed using a 40-hour work week to determine overtime instead of the eight-hour work day.

That would allow employees, in mutual agreement with a supervisor, to work nine hours one day and come in an hour later the next, creating a flexible shift for district employees, Allen said.

The association raised a concern about compensatory time where an employee may work and the extra hours are recorded in their building. Later, that time is not cashed out or not taken. The association asked that comp time be recorded in the business office.

Association representatives also were concerned about passing time in the elementary schools, where an aide may sometimes be late for one class while still in another class, resulting in potential reprimand. Scheduling passing time could solve the problem.

Curriculum Director Jan Sharp said that Oak Heights had that worked into the schedule while she was working there, and told the association team that it could be addressed in an administrative meeting.

The district proposed eliminating a clause from the contract that protects employees rights to participate in their union.

That right is already granted under state law, Wilson said.

“This is not a big issue,” Gilman said. It is standard in contracts. By being in the contract, it gives association members the ability to grieve it at the local level, if they are denied their right to participate, without having to file an unfair labor practice complaint with the Bureau of Labor and Industries. The grievance could be resolved quickly at the district level.

Wilson told the association that it should have just “one bite at the apple,” instead of being able to grieve it under the contract and file a complaint under state law. Wilson said the district does not care which mechanism remained but demanded that the association have only one method of enforcing that right either by removing it from the contract or waiving the ability to file an unfair labor practice complaint.

Gilman told the district negotiators that the association would get back to them about it after weighing it as a priority.

The district and association teams also discussed sick leave and vacation time.