Eagle Point schools, union make last try at pact

Today's bargaining session may determine whether strike is called

With the possibility of a strike looming, employees in the Eagle Point School District and its administration will make one more attempt to bargain today, more than 13 months after negotiations began.

If progress is not made on a new contract, a strike vote could come by Tuesday, April 24.

The union representing the employees has said the district isn't budging on a contract article that would reduce and reschedule teacher prep time — a change teachers say would amount to more working hours for them.

"This offer does not sway most people away from their chief concerns about working conditions," said David Sours, chairman of the bargaining support team and a teacher at White Mountain Middle School.

"If we do vote to strike, people need to understand it is not all about employee salaries," said Sours. "Teachers are very concerned about loss of prep time."

Both the district and the union released final contract offers April 4, after the union declared an impasse, putting a timeline on the end of negotiations.

If a contract isn't settled by May 4, then the district can implement its final offer, and employees say they likely will strike.

"It's unfortunate and sad that it has come to this," said Daniel Burdis, a consultant with the Oregon Education Association.

Union representatives also said they've received reports that school officials are violating labor laws.

According to Eagle Point Employee Association President Dave Carrell, employees have complained that school administrators, including principals, have been "badgering" staff as to whether they would participate in a strike if one occurs.

Carrell said that if administrators are doing this, they would be in violation of the Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act.

In an email, Carrell said employee association leaders believe school administrators are trying to "intimidate the staff from participating in exercising their right to strike."

District Business Manager Scott Whitman said he wasn't aware of any administrators attempting to interfere with employees about the potential strike and didn't believe the allegations were accurate.

Burdis said he doesn't believe the district will give in on the union's wishes for teacher prep time.

"I've seen nothing that says they are willing to budge on prep time," said Burdis.

Today's meeting came at the request of the union. A mediator will attend to facilitate negotiations.

The school district has said the union has asked for unaffordable raises and insurance increases, and proposed generating the money for the increases by cutting school days or laying off staff.

Eagle Point Schools Superintendent Cynda Rickert said the district's proposal increases pay and benefits by more than $4 million and doesn't cut any days.

"The district thinks we have a very good offer on the table," said Whitman. "We're very hopeful."

But Sours said the district's proposal gives administrators the option to subcontract out services such as transportation and janitorial work, a possibility that worries employees.

While Burdis said he is hopeful of a resolution today, the union is making internal preparations in case teachers vote to strike.

Negotiations will begin today at 1 p.m. at the district office while school employees meet with the OEA to discuss strike preparations.

Employees said they plan to meet April 24 to either vote on a contract or vote to strike, depending on the outcome of today's bargaining.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.

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