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Medford district calls foul on teachers union

The Medford School District has given the Medford Education Association a virtual wrist-slapping for its actions during a mediation to resolve an unfair labor practice complaint filed by the union in October 2013.

The district has filed its own unfair labor practice complaint with the state, alleging that the teachers union did not provide a “good faith offer” during a Nov. 16 mediation session and had published “inaccurate information” on its website about the status of the ongoing litigation.

Last fall, after Oregon’s Employment Relations Board issued a final order regarding the October 2013 complaint, board Chairwoman Kathryn Logan recommended that both parties attempt to resolve the issue in a mediated bargaining session, which was held Nov. 16. Both parties later agreed that those deliberations and the mediator's statements would be confidential.

But according to the district’s complaint filed in December, MEA representatives submitted an offer but then left the building without waiting for the district to respond, “effectively” ending the mediation session.

The MEA, according to the complaint, later issued a public statement to its members that “accused the district of an intentional violation of the good faith standard,” among other things.

District officials said Wednesday that the statement has since been removed from the MEA’s website.

“I think the overarching reason the district filed is because the board wants to make sure that accurate information gets out to all staff,” said School Board Chairman Jeff Thomas. “And there was communication that went out to MEA membership that, in our opinion, wasn’t accurate and put the district and the board in an awkward situation.

“We felt it was important to file the ULP to set a standard of communication moving forward, whether that’s from staff to board or board to staff. If we are going to work collaboratively, then we need to trust that the information is disseminated in a clear and accurate way.”

Calls to MEA President Cheryl Lashley were not returned.

A hearing before an administrative law judge on the district's complaint will be held on or sometime after April 14, said Mary Barton, the Employment Relations Board’s hearings assistant.

Brad Earl, the district’s chief financial officer and one of the two members of its bargaining team, declined to elaborate on the circumstances leading the district to file the complaint.

“We don’t want to upset the process,” he said Wednesday.

“We’re trying our best to have a respectful discourse with teachers,” he added. “But there are some players behind the scenes that are making it hard.”

Thomas said that the complaint has nothing to do with the “rank-and-file teachers” but rather those representing them.

“To me, it’s not about an unfair labor practice,” he said. “It’s about setting some ground rules for communication so that all parties get fair and accurate information.”

In the complaint, the district asks the ERB to order the union to remove the published statement, to “cease and desist publishing inaccurate information,” to post a corrected statement reviewed by the district, to award a civil penalty of $1,000 and to reimburse the district’s filing fee.

The October 2013 complaint filed by the union stated that the district had violated the memorandum of agreement included in the 2011-13 contract. The memorandum 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.

The district added back four days in 2012-13 and an additional four days under the 2013-16 contract, but there was still money up for dispute.

The Nov. 16 mediation session was the district’s and union’s final attempt to bargain over the amount still owed teachers. When that failed, the ERB ordered that the district pay $345,067 to MEA members, who had been seeking up to $729,000. Teachers received their share of the settlement Dec. 24.

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