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MailTribune.com
  • Strike looms over Eagle Point schools

    Latest bargaining session fails after 13˝ hours of talks
  • Bargaining teams for the Eagle Point School District and its employee union negotiated into the early morning hours Thursday, but were unable to agree on a contract, leaving employees likely to authorize a strike.
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  • Bargaining teams for the Eagle Point School District and its employee union negotiated into the early morning hours Thursday, but were unable to agree on a contract, leaving employees likely to authorize a strike.
    "It was so disappointing to work for 131/2 hours and have nothing to show for it," Debbie Drudevol, a member of the employee bargaining team, said in a statement released Thursday morning.
    Employees had asked the district for the bargaining session after declaring an impasse in late March and realizing the opportunity to negotiate would soon be over.
    Each bargaining team submitted final contract offers April 4, commencing a 30-day cooling-off period for each side to study the contracts.
    Although the two sides may negotiate throughout the 30 days, Wednesday's meeting was the only scheduled bargaining session.
    District business manager Scott Whitman said significant progress was made during the meeting and he expects informal communication to continue during the rest of the cooling-off period.
    "It's been one of our most productive meetings," said Whitman. "There were a handful of agreements made along the way, and we agreed to continue the dialogue."
    Two weeks from today will mark the end of the cooling-off period, at which point the district can choose to implement its contract.
    The two bargaining teams have been stuck on a number of contract articles, including the district's proposed reduction of teacher prep time, employee salaries and the possibility of contracting out transportation and janitorial services.
    Whitman said employees Wednesday night agreed to a mediation proposal to prorate part-time employee benefits, a request of the district, while the district reconsidered its proposal to change elementary school teacher prep time, a request of the employee union.
    "There was progress made," Whitman said.
    Still, without a settled contract, union representatives may ask employees to vote to authorize a strike.
    During Wednesday's meeting, representatives from the Eagle Point Education Association met with consultants from the Oregon Education Association for advice about the potential for a strike. The EPEA represents teachers and classified employees of the Eagle Point district.
    The EPEA has requested that the OEA sanction the strike and provide financial support from a $24 million OEA crisis fund, set in place to offer cash stipends to employees on strike.
    The OEA can also provide health benefits and additional support for employees with unique circumstances.
    The EPEA plans to meet April 24 for employees to vote on whether to strike.
    Technically only 51 percent of employees must vote in favor of the strike for it to move forward, though typically the overwhelming majority must be in favor for it to go through, according to Daniel Burdis, a consultant from the OEA.
    "We would expect near-unanimous support to authorize a strike," Burdis said.
    Employees must give the district 10 days' notice of intent to strike.
    Whitman said that a strike would be problematic for the district, and might result in the use of numerous substitute teachers and create issues for transportation of students.
    In 2009, the last time employees negotiated on a contract with the district, no settlement was reached by the last day of the bargaining period, leading employees to authorize a strike.
    During an all-night bargaining session on the last day of the negotiation period the two parties were able to settle on a contract and no strike took place.
    Burdis said that from his experience districts and employees who have bargained through to the last minute in the past are likely to do so again.
    The 30-day cooling off period will end May 4.
    Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.
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