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School union files grievance with Ashland district

ASHLAND — The union that represents Ashland School District's classified workers has filed a grievance with the district claiming the superintendent went back on a deal about how many workdays would be cut.

The Oregon School Employees Association says Superintendent Juli Di Chiro didn't hold to her end of the agreement they made earlier this year during a final round of budget cuts.

Di Chiro says she reserved the right to adjust most classified workers' schedules because of the dire budget situation.

"The stance of the district is those people that are not 12-month employees, the district — as it has done in the past and will continue to do — can adjust their hours," she said.

But the classified workers feel they were misled during the budget-cut bargaining process, said Cindy Drought, a field representative for the Oregon School Employees Association.

"They definitely were not happy and they definitely felt that they had been betrayed," she said. "They were simply looking for a level of fairness there."

According to a district memorandum of understanding, which the union voters approved, classified employees would work two fewer days during the coming school year, forfeiting pay on those days.

But work schedules that were handed out to classified employees the day before they planned to vote on the pay-cut agreement showed many employees were expected to work three to eight fewer days, instead of the agreed-upon two.

Educational assistants were scheduled to work five fewer days, secretarial staff were scheduled for three fewer, and the registrar was scheduled for eight fewer, Drought said.

Di Chiro said she did not intend to mislead the union voters.

"I made a good-faith effort to communicate to them," she said. "I think there's some miscommunication that occurred on both sides." Di Chiro said she had to make more cuts than officials had hoped because of the budget deficit.

"It was a very tough spring for everybody and we had to make lots of decisions because of the budget problems that we wouldn't ordinarily have to make," she said.

Drought met with Di Chiro, a School Board representative and the Labor Management Classified Committee on July 21 but they were unable to resolve the work-scheduling issue. At that time, Di Chiro offered to reinstate three workdays for educational assistants and one workday for clerical employees, she said.

That wasn't enough, Drought said, because the other employees still are scheduled to work three or more days fewer, instead of the agreed-upon two.

"If we had not challenged this in a grievance form, we would have a group of our employees who had an argument," she said. "We have an obligation to our entire bargaining unit."

On Thursday, the union filed the grievance, giving the superintendent 10 days to respond. Di Chiro hopes to meet with the union representatives next week to work toward resolving the matter, she said.

If the union isn't satisfied with her response, the grievance could proceed to arbitration, a costly procedure where a neutral third party acts like a judge and makes a final decision on the issue.

Di Chiro said she hopes to avoid going to arbitration.

"I don't think it's a good way to solve problems," she said. "We do believe in working closely with our employees and our hope is always that we will find a mutually agreeable solution."

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. She can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226, or hguzik@dailytidings.com.