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Medford School District staff strike pay deal

Classified workers in the Medford School District will receive a 10 percent raise over three years in a tentative agreement reached Friday with the union.

Employees will receive pay increases of 5 percent in the first year, 3 percent in the second and 2 percent in the third, according to the new contract, which is expected to be approved next week by members of the Oregon School Employees Association Chapter 15.

Almost 500 employees in the district are considered classified, including electricians, office managers, receptionists and educational aides. Of these, about a third work part-time.

After seven negotiation sessions over 40 working days, both sides were able to share their concerns and reach a fair agreement, Superintendent Phil Long said.

In addition to raises, employees will receive a one-time, 2 percent wage stipend once the contract is ratified.

Classified staff will continue to pay their 6 percent contributions to the Public Employees Retirement System. However, the district will now make a one-time contribution of $600 to the accounts of employees who sign up for a 403(b), a retirement savings plan, and provide several other match incentives, according to OSEA negotiations chairman Duane Steinhorst.

Employees also will pay a larger share of health care expenses. Currently, the district pays 95 percent of the health care premium cost. By 2017, the district will pay 89 percent.

Long said because of the changing landscape of health care nationally, there is an increasing need for employees to pay part of the premium costs, he said.

"Also, when employees have more skin in the game, they are more open to ways of cutting health care costs and focusing on prevention," Long said.

The district will increase longevity stipends for classified workers by 10 percent. Longevity stipends begin when employees have been working for the district for nine years and increase at 14, 18, 22 and 26 years.

Employees who work during some paid leaves, including personal leave, sick time and holidays, will now be paid overtime for their work.

Steinhorst said that unlike many previous negotiations, the process was cordial and conversational.

"We said right off the bat that we don't just want to push paper back and forth. We want to have a dialogue through the whole process," Steinhorst said. "That part was really quite exceptional."

Long said monthly meetings with the union over the last two years helped the two sides to avoid the types of conflicts that arose during negotiations with the teachers union that led to an 11-day strike last February, as well as an impasse between the district and the classified union two years ago.

Long said both sides have worked hard to repair relationships and get issues on the table monthly, allowing them to focus on core issues during the contract negotiations.

"Given all the challenges we faced in the last year and a half, it was great to be able to come together with the union and just talk to agreement," Long said.

Steinhorst said while the union would have liked to lessen the percentage of health care premium costs that employees will have to pay, representatives are mostly satisfied.

"In negotiations, neither side gets absolutely everything they want," Steinhorst said. "But it was really nice to sit in this room and have conversations with people and not be all uptight."

If approved by the union and the School Board, the new contract will run July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2017.

Reach Mail Tribune reporting intern Kelsey Thomas at 541-776-4368 or by email kthomas@mailtribune.com.