Tensions rise in Eagle Point schools dispute

Eagle Point School District bus drivers and lead mechanic Mark Wyatt, foreground, slowly walk a picket line in front of a school driver returning to the bus barn Thursday morning. The driver is an employee who is not participating in the strike.Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell

EAGLE POINT — Negotiations between the Eagle Point School District and the striking workers' union are continuing after tensions between the sides escalated.

The district and the union traded accusations of harassment and intimidation after a series of reported run-ins at Eagle Point and White City schools.

Union spokesman Daniel Burdis said picketing union members were nearly run over by a district bus transporting replacement teachers and employees to White City Elementary on Wednesday.

Burdis said a union member was struck by a bus that slowly pushed its way through a line of picketers. The member received only a minor elbow injury, Burdis said, but the incident underscored rising animosity between the sides that boiled over at various times on Wednesday.

"The frustrations (Wednesday) ran pretty high," Burdis said.

Security hired by the district said that the Jackson County Sheriff's Department dispatched deputies to White City Elementary to warn union members not to block bus entrances.

A sheriff's sergeant on duty Thursday said the picketers complied with the deputies' orders and stayed within legal boundaries.

A video on the union's website shows a bus driver running a stop sign as it turned into a school parking lot on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, district officials are reporting that employees are being harassed by picketers, leading some to feel unsafe as they report to work, said Michael Remick, the district's human resources director.

Remick said picketers cursed and threatened employees in a district parking lot.

Wednesday saw a parent report that she was "attacked" by picketers as she attempted to enter Hillside Elementary School to get paperwork for her child, though details were not available.


"She was very shaken up by the incident," Remick said.

However, these tensions seemed to ease by Thursday.

Classes remained canceled through Friday as the district hosted training sessions with 65 substitute teachers who could fill in for the striking teachers on Monday if a settlement wasn't reached.

Remick said the sides met face-to-face on Thursday and at various points broke apart to discuss ideas with a mediator.

The mediator bounded between the sides throughout the day in an attempt to bridge differences and end the chaos that has reigned for the past four days.

Progress was made on a number of issues during the week. On Tuesday evening, tentative agreements had been reached for employees to receive a cost-of-living pay increase of 0.5 percent in 2012-13 and 0.5 percent in 2013-14, and for the district to ban subcontracting for 21/2 years. The district had proposed a two-year moratorium on subcontracting for such jobs as bus drivers and custodians, while the union wanted to keep the ban in place through the full three years of a new contract.

On Thursday, the sides haggled over instructional time for teachers and what type of insurance benefits part-time employees would receive.

Remick said the mediator could order the sides to continue negotiating throughout the weekend in hopes of reaching an agreement by Monday.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or email cconrad@mailtribune.com.



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