Employees in the Eagle Point School District voted overwhelmingly in favor of authorizing a strike Tuesday, saying months of failed bargaining have affected their work performance.
"People are feeling exhausted, overworked and overwhelmed," said Judy Rosenzweig, an art teacher at Eagle Point High School who voted in favor of authorizing the strike. "You cannot convince me that it does not impact the learning environment."
Rosenzweig said she has followed the ongoing negotiations over the past several months and seen the effect it has had on employees.
"The sheer overwhelm of the workload is indescribable," said Rosenzweig.
The Eagle Point Education Association has been bargaining with the district administration for 13 months without settling on a new contract for teachers, other licensed employees and classified staff.
In late March, the EPEA declared an impasse, putting a timeline to the end of bargaining.
Both the union and the EPEA submitted final contract proposals April 4, which began a 30-day cooling-off period.
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.
During a 131/2; hour bargaining session April 19, the teams made several steps toward settling a contract, but still were unable to agree on all the articles.
"It's been hard," said Jay Schroder, a language arts teacher at Eagle Point High School who also voted to authorize the strike.
Schroder said before the vote that he believed most employees were in favor of authorizing a strike, and understand that actually striking is a real possibility.
"They realize it's a big decision," said Schroder.
Of the EPEA's 341 employees, about 87 percent attended Tuesday's meeting, according to David Sours, chairman of the bargaining support team.
Sours said the "overwhelming majority," or at least 80 percent of those who attended, voted in favor of authorizing the strike.
The Oregon Education Association is sanctioning the EPEA strike, meaning they will help support employees through part of a $24 million strike fund the OEA has built up, should they decide to walk off the job.
The EPEA must give the district 10-day notice of their intent to strike, and cannot strike until the end of the 30-day cooling off period, which ends May 4.
At this time, the district also gains the authority to implement some or all of their last contract offer, without further negotiations.
Regardless of whether a strike is called, employees can each make a personal decision of whether they will come to work.
Sours said the employees hope bargaining to continue through the rest of the cooling-off period.
In 2009, the last time employees negotiated on a contract with the district, months of failed bargaining led employees to vote and authorize a strike.
They were able to settle on a contract during an all-night bargaining session on the last day of negotiations, and no strike took place.
Rosenzweig said she worked for the district in 2009, but feels this attempt to settle a contract has been harder.
"It's been different this time because of the economy," said Rosenzweig. "I'm very disappointed in the leadership of our district."
Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or firstname.lastname@example.org.