If no pact occurs, union will strike Feb. 6

The Medford Education Association will issue on Monday an intent to strike against the Medford School District, the union announced Saturday night.

If the parties do not reach a settlement before Thursday, Feb. 6 at 6 a.m., a strike will commence, MEA President Cheryl Lashley said in a prepared statement.

Under Oregon law, the notice of the union's intent to strike initiates a 10-day period that must elapse before a strike can begin.

"The MEA had hopes they would never have to use this authority, let alone so soon, but the district has left us no choice," Lashley said in her statement.

The teachers union and the Medford School District have been negotiating for nearly a year, but remain apart on several, mostly monetary issues, including compensation, pension contributions, early retirement and teacher preparation time.

"They have accused us of drawing lines in the sand, you know, it could be perceived the other way too; that they have drawn some lines in the sand," said School Board member Sally Killen, who has been involved in negotiations.

"We are very concerned about several costs to the district. We want to be able to increases teachers and increase support for students and that takes money, and the district teachers right now want that money for themselves."

On Thursday evening, nearly 600 teachers assembled at the Ramada Inn, with the majority voting to reject a Jan. 14 proposal issued by the district and authorize a strike if the bargaining team deemed it necessary.

Lashley did not respond to telephone messages seeking comment, and Nancy Egan, co-chairwoman of the association's bargaining team, said she was "not at liberty," to comment on the notice of intent to strike.

Nine-year School Board member Larry Nicholson, who has not been directly involved with negotiations, said he is frustrated by the recent development.

"We are still determined to get more teachers and a longer school year, we have to do that. ... We want to pay fair wages, and, obviously, we want to be very competitive, and I think we are offering fair wages." he said. "The union wants higher pay and less teachers.

"We just need to quit spinning the messages, and get our district back to where we're serving the students. I am really tired of the rhetoric, both sides need to quit spinning it and tell it like it is."

Killen said the district was hoping to negotiate a three-year contract with the teachers' union, but the MEA is proposing a two-year contract. When the MEA bargaining team walked out of Friday's negotiating session after less than an hour, Killen said, it was over negotiating third-year contract terms.

"We both are having issues that we feel very strongly about, (such as) the district does not want an outside organization such as Southern Oregon Bargaining Council to have their name and their need for approval in our contract," Killen said.

The SOBC represents educators and their respective unions in several districts across Southern Oregon including: Ashland School District, Southern Oregon Education Service District, Eagle Point School District, Central Point School District, Rogue River School District, Phoenix-Talent School District and Grants Pass School District.

"We aren't negotiating with SOBC, and we don't want that in the contract, and that's something the union has been insisting on including in their proposal," Killen said.

Before teachers voted to reject the district's proposal on Thursday, there had been a preliminary bargaining session scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 28, but it was canceled.

It is unclear whether both parties will sit down for further negotiations, Killen said.

"I know they had a vote last week to approve a strike notice with their members so, we were ready to be prepared," she said. "We knew that they would be issuing an intent to strike, we are really hoping they are willing to still talk."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@gmail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

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