Talks break down between Medford School District, classified employees

Negotiations have stalled between the Medford School District and its classified employees, prompting both sides to seek mediation to resolve their differences.

The sticking point between the sides remains the amount the district is asking the employees to pay toward their medical insurance premiums.

Medford schools Superintendant Phil Long said the state will provide a mediator, but this might not happen for more than a month.

"From what we understand, there are only a few mediators in the state and they are in demand in these tough times," Long said.

Representatives from the Oregon School Employees Association, the classified employees' union, and the school district have been negotiating a contract since April.

The district is asking the classified employees to pay 16 percent of their insurance premiums.

"We need more participation by the employees to cover the health care costs," Long said. "This is why we are offering a substantial salary increase."

The union says this is unfair, because the district covers a far larger percentage of the teachers' and administrations' premiums.

The union is asking the district to cover 97 percent of monthly health insurance costs for all classified employees.

The classified employees, which include office workers and janitors among other positions, make less money than teachers and administrators and cannot afford to pay 16 percent of their insurance premiums, said Cindy Drought, a representative for the OSEA.

The district reports that about 28 percent of classified employees work full-time for 10 months, earning about $28,400 a year, not including benefits. About 18 percent of classified workers are full-time employees who work year-round, earning about $34,500 a year, not including benefits.

About half of the classified employees don't qualify for health benefits from the district because they work less than four hours per day.

Classified employees also would continue paying 6 percent to the Public Employees Retirement System.

The district's proposal does include a 7 percent salary increase for classified employees during the 2012-13 school year.

"Mediation is not a place where either party wanted to go," Drought said.

Drought said the classified employees are not looking to strike.

— Chris Conrad

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