E.P. schools employees to vote on strike

The Eagle Point School District employee union will vote Tuesday on whether to strike after a year of fruitless contract negotiations.

Some employees plan to picket at 4 p.m. Tuesday at Cascade Bingo Hall, 7455 Crater Lake Highway in White City. They will follow with the strike vote at 6 p.m.

The union's two co-presidents did not immediately return phone calls Friday seeking comment. Friday was the last day of the northeast Jackson County district's spring break.

In a statement released Friday, the Eagle Point Education Association said the employees' goal "is to settle a contract to avoid disruptions to students, schools and the community."

Talks between the district and union are hung up on the length of the proposed contract.

The strike vote comes on the same day a union bargaining team plans to meet with the district for another mediation session and follows an announcement last week that 28 employees would be laid off.

"It is very difficult to be talking about contracts while the region's economy appears to be in free-fall," said School Board President Jonathan Bilden. "The last thing our students and community need is a strike and the School Board has put forward an offer which balances our financial cuts with a fair contract for employees.

"Budgets in Oregon are being slashed, whether it be the private or public sector, and our School Board's first priority is to ensure that our students receive a quality education in future years."

Should the majority of the district's 400 employees favor a strike, they would have to wait 10 days before walking out. Any resolution during that cooling-off period would effectively end the strike, said Michael Remick, Eagle Point district human resources director.

The two parties met for three straight days of mediation last week without a resolution.

The district and union had made progress in contract language but still are at odds on the length of the contract and specifics on pay.

The union has pressed for a one-year contract, so pay can be negotiated again next year.

"If we have a one-year contract it will actually expire in July, and that's not far away," Remick said. "We just think that's not very practical and not good for the district since we've been working on this contract for a year."

The district supports a three-year contract with a 2 percent retroactive pay raise for 2008-09 and no cost-of-living increases in the second and third year. Teachers who have been with the district for 14 years or less would receive an annual pay increase for experience, referred to as a step increase. The district has proposed a 3.4 percent step increase for teachers and a 4.5 percent step increase for support staff.

District officials say they want to avoid committing to a cost-of-living raise next year because the state's deteriorating financial situation makes school funding levels uncertain.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.

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