Oregon Education Association professionals who help teachers in contract negotiations went on strike Monday against the union they represent, alleging unfair labor practices by the association's bargaining team and protesting proposed rollbacks in benefits.
The OEA Professional Staff Organization, a union of 42 members, led demonstrations throughout the state, including the Medford OEA office where about seven people picketed.
"It's never a happy time when you have to go on strike, but we also feel that if we don't stand up for our union how could we be trusted to stand up for others' unions?" said Jane Bilodeau, a Medford-based OEA consultant and PSO member.
OEA has 48,000 members, including teachers, school support staff members and college employees.
The PSO helps guide OEA members in collective bargaining, assists in teacher complaints, arranges arbitration between teachers and their employers and publishes newsletters about changes that could affect members. All of those services, however, are on hold pending a contract agreement.
The PSO's two-year employment contract expired on July 1.
The PSO and OEA bargaining teams met in May to begin negotiations. In mid-August, the OEA presented the PSO with a "last-best offer" in which retirement and medical benefits were scaled back. The offer also included an annual 4 percent cost-of-living pay raise and eliminated compensation time for overtime.
The PSO claimed the OEA circumvented the PSO's bargaining team, presenting the last-best offer directly to members, and tried to strong-arm the union into agreeing to terms before negotiations.
It also alleged that OEA refused to provide the union with medical insurance claim information it needed to craft a counterproposal.
The complaints were filed Thursday with the National Labor Relations Board, said Tom Husted, a PSO spokesperson.
The two bargaining teams also went to mediation Thursday but talks had broken down by the end of the week, Husted said.
The OEA denies it withheld information from the PSO bargaining team, said BethAnne Darby, OEA director of public relations.
"We are open to returning to the table to resolve the issues," Darby said. "We want the staff working with us, and we are sorry this is their choice, that they decided to go on strike."
Under the union's last contract, an employee with 10 years' experience or more would earn an annual salary of about $110,000, including a travel allowance and other incidentals.
About 75 percent of the union's members have 10 years-plus of experience, Darby said.
Husted said the bargaining teams' differences aren't related to salaries. The PSO's main concerns are increases in medical insurance premiums for employees, the elimination of compensation time and shrinking retirement benefits, he said.
On the Net: www.oregoned.org.
Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or email@example.com.