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Unfair labor complaint against Medford School District resolved

On Christmas Eve, the Medford School District paid about 620 Medford teachers their cut of a $345,067 settlement to an unfair labor practice complaint filed by the teachers union in October 2013.

Oregon’s Employment Relations Board issued a final order in August stating the district had violated the memorandum of agreement included in the 2011-13 contract with the Medford Education Association, as the complaint had alleged.

The agreement recognized that teachers had lost eight work days and the corresponding compensation and stipulated that if the district received additional funding, then those days and teachers’ salaries would be restored in the subsequent year.

“Times were bad then, and we were looking at cuts because funding was not increasing,” said Brad Earl, the district’s chief financial officer. “The MOA said what would happen if we got more money than we thought we were going to get.”

Unfortunately, the document was poorly worded and confusing, district and union officials said Thursday.

The district added back four days in the 2012-13 school year. And when the district received an additional $1.533 million from the state in May 2013, it was still negotiating a successor contract with the union and did not immediately add back days or the corresponding salaries.

The parties were still negotiating the contract in October when the union filed the complaint and finally arrived at an agreement early in 2014, following an 11-day teachers strike.

The 2013-16 contract added an additional four days to the calendar and increased the teachers’ wages accordingly. It costs about $350,000 a day for the school district to operate, leaving about $133,000 of the $1.533 million up for dispute.

In August, the Employment Relations Board concluded that the district had violated the terms of the 2011 agreement, which the district didn't dispute, but agreed the language was ambiguous, “susceptible to more than one plausible interpretation.” The board gave the union and district 60 days to “bargain in good faith” over the amount still owed teachers.

“It was a confusing document, and they encouraged us, obviously, to get back in the room and resolve it or else they would have to make the decision for us,” Earl said.

District and union officials exchanged proposals, used an Employment Relations Board mediator and met face-to-face. But, at the end of the 60 days, they still hadn't settled on an amount, so both parties submitted a final proposal to the board for review.

Using a formula (Appendix A) prescribed by the Employment Relations Board, the district figured it owed the teachers $49,295.43, and the union calculated that the district owed it $728,993.

The formula, Earl said, was carried forward from the 2008-11 contract, which had never been used to resolve a dispute, is no longer in use and was just as confusing as the memorandum of agreement.

The board was dissatisfied with both proposals but reasoned that the union’s calculation better reflected “the intent of the MOA and Appendix A formula.” However, it didn't take into consideration the retroactive pay increases the district had already paid union members, so the board subtracted that and ordered that the district pay $345,067 to MEA members.

The MEA also asked the Employment Relations Board to order that the district post a notice of the violation, pay a civil penalty and reimburse its filing fees, but all three requests were denied.

After hearing the findings Dec. 1, Superintendent Brian Shumate and other district administrators worked with the union to identify which teachers were employed between June 2013 and August 2014 and to what extent they were employed during that time.

The impacted, full-time teachers received about $650 each before taxes and withholdings, Earl said.

“I think our members were happy to get something,” said MEA President Cheryl Lashley. “It was well-deserved and well fought for.”

“The MOA should have been followed from the beginning, but we’re happy it’s behind us now and that we’re moving forward,” she added.

The Medford School Board will make the necessary budget amendments at the Jan. 26 board meeting.

“It’s my desire to build a collaborative relationship with the MEA, and in the future, we want to have less room for interpretation in our agreements,” said Shumate.

“We have great teachers in this district, and I want them to be proud of the district they work in.”

Reach education reporter Teresa Thomas at 541-776-4497 or tthomas@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/teresathomas_mt.