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Preliminary ruling favors Medford school workers

Ajudge has sided with the classified employees of the Medford School District in an unfair labor practice complaint the union filed against the district last May.

The complaint with the state Employee Relations Board alleged that the district engaged in bad-faith bargaining in 2011 when it imposed a final contract offer on the classified employees after months of bargaining.

"We're very pleased with the decision," said Cindy Drought, a field representative for the Oregon School Employees Association's Medford chapter.

Facing an $11 million budget shortfall in the spring of 2011, the district asked each employee group to cut costs by 8 percent, beginning an expedited bargaining period with classified employees.

In October 2011, after months of failed negotiations between the district and classified staff, the district gained the right under expedited bargaining to legally impose its final contract offer on the employees, putting in place a new contract with several cuts.

Among the changes was that the employees were required to contribute 6 percent of wages to their Public Employee Retirement System accounts.

Drought said that during negotiations, the district had proposed that the PERS pickup would last only through June 2012, but when the contract was imposed in October, it stated the PERS pickup would last until a new contract was settled.

By changing this condition of the contract, the district engaged in regressive bargaining, Drought said.

Drought said an administrative law judge has given a proposed order that asks the district to cease and desist the bad-faith bargaining and post a notice in all district work sites admitting wrongdoing.

A second claim alleging that the administration sent out a misleading email during the bargaining process was thrown out by the judge, Drought said.

"The bargaining team had a very difficult time in 2011," Drought said. "The district imposing the contract, it had a horrendous effect on classified employees."

Drought said the district will have an opportunity to appeal the order, and she expected to learn more about the proposed order this week.

The judge's decision is only a proposed order and not final, Drought said.

Superintendent Phil Long declined to comment on the order, except to say that it was only preliminary.

"It was a preliminary order and we're still working through it until we have a resolution," said Long.

Since the contract was imposed, the classified union and the district returned to the bargaining table last April, settling a new contract in December.

As part of the new contract, classified employees continued the 6 percent PERS pickup.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.