Teachers sue school district over labor practices

The Medford Education Association has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state against the Medford School District, alleging the district is violating state law.

The two sides are in negotiations for a new contract that was supposed to begin July 1, but they remain far apart in their efforts to reach an agreement.

The MEA is accusing the district of negotiating in "bad faith" for failing to restore days and/or increase insurance coverage and salaries after the district received more money from the state last May.

The two sides had agreed on what to do if extra money became available in a memorandum of agreement (MOA) they've been operating under during negotiations, according to the complaint filed Tuesday with the Oregon Employment Relations Board.

"We have been telling the district all along that the MOA needed to be followed," said Cheryl Lashley, union president and teacher at Howard Elementary.

"We just want what was promised to us," Lashley said.

A 2011 memorandum of agreement, signed by Lashley, Superintendent Phil Long and a School Board member, stated that the district promised to "invest any new money they received to add back school days or restore concessions teachers made to save the district money in the past," she said.

"Now that they have that money, they refuse to honor their commitment. They're breaking our trust and they're breaking the law," Lashley said.

The teachers' complaint says the district unilaterally implemented changes to the number of contract days, which impacted terms of the contract, and to teachers' health insurance coverage and compensation. It requests the state's Employment Relations Board order the district to follow the terms of the memorandum.

The district disagrees with the demands, saying there was no language in the memorandum that the district was required to take those steps.

Lashley said Medford teachers agreed to cuts that added up to more than $7 million in "givebacks" to the district during the last negotiation period, based on an agreement that when the economy improved, the district would restore cut days, increase teacher salaries and protect their benefits.

The district received $93 million from the state in the last biennium and $101 million in this current one. But all the district is offering teachers is "a slap in the face," she said.

"We have not had a raise in over five years," Lashley said. "They are offering a raise of 6 percent and making us pay our PERS (Public Employee Retirement System), which comes to 6 percent. Even my third-graders understand that comes to zero."

The board's vice president, Ron Anderson, said in an email that the MEA's contract proposal "is not sustainable."

"It does not provide more learning time," Anderson said. "Because of its cost, it will result in reductions in instructional programs and teaching positions. This will undermine our efforts to increase the graduation rate."

Anderson said employee benefits have increased by $10 million over the past 10 years. The added cost has contributed to the loss of 50 teaching positions. The district will continue to pay the employer's share of the teachers' pension plan, which currently comes to about 19 percent of their salaries. But teachers will be required to pay 6 percent toward PERS, he said. Under the district's proposed contract, the district will also stop paying up to eight years of health benefits for qualifying teachers who retire early, Anderson said.

The district's offer increases the contract year to 192 days, restoring four instructional days and two days for parent conferences, raises teacher pay by 8 percent over three years and "keep costs in line with projected revenues," Anderson said.

The teachers' union insisted in a June 20 letter to Long that the district restore four days to the school calendar based on a 2.1 percent increase in per-pupil funding the district received from the state for 2012-2013 over the previous year, Lashley said.

"We cut eight days in 2011," Lashley said, adding all of the cuts were non-instructional days, as "the teachers did not want the kids' education effected."

Four of the days have been added back, she said. But the teachers want the other four non-instructional days returned as well, Lashley said.

"They have the money," she said. "They're just choosing not to spend it on salaries and benefits for the teachers."

The complaint also demanded that a one-time payment of $800,000 the district received should be applied toward employees' insurance premiums and salaries.

The two parties will hold their third mediation session on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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