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District, workers reach accord

The Medford School District has reached a tentative agreement with its classified employees on a contract for the next two years.

District and union representatives have been bargaining since April, including two 16-hour mediation sessions after negotiations stalled in late August.

Under the new agreement, most classified employees would receive raises ranging up to 8 percent over the next two years. That's intended in part to offset additional costs the employees will take on in health insurance and retirement costs.

"It's about a way for us to stabilize our budgeting process so that we can more predictably sustain services," said district Superintendent Phil Long.

Under the agreement, the district would pay a fixed amount toward medical, dental and vision insurance instead of paying 100 percent of premium costs.

The agreement also eliminates medical coverage for retiring employees who don't yet qualify for Medicare. Instead, they will receive a payment of $1,500 for each year of service through June 30 of this year, which could be used to purchase health care coverage.

Classified employees also will contribute 6 percent of their wages toward their Public Employee Retirement System accounts.

Newer employees will continue to receive step increases of 2.5 percent per year on top of the 8 percent base pay increase. More experienced employees also would receive raises of varying amounts, ranging up to a maximum 8 percent increase over the next two years.

Of the district's 477 classified employees, about 35 will receive no salary increase.

Previously, a sticking point in stalled negotiations was classified employees' concern that they were being asked to shoulder the same increased insurance costs as teachers and administrators, who earn higher salaries.

Under the deal, the district would contribute a fixed amount per employee. For employees working six to eight hours a day, the district would pay $5,400 annually toward insurance costs for individuals and up to $17,400 per year for full family coverage. The remaining costs would be covered by employees.

"What you have is a fixed benefit," said Medford School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas. "This allows the district to bend that expense curve."

Employees working four to six hours a day will receive a subsidy that will cover 50 to 75 percent of the costs. Employees working less than four hours a day do not qualify for insurance benefits.

Long said negotiations were challenging but he thinks the right calls were made by both sides.

"We recognize this is sort of the reset we have to do to be in alignment with the new norm economically," Long said.

OSEA representative Cindy Drought could not be reached for comment. The agreement must be ratified by the union's members and the School Board before it would go into effect.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or email rpfeil@mailtribune.com.