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Guest Opinion: Classified employees are divided

As a classified employee in the Ashland School District since 1988 and past president of OSEA Chapter 42, there are items needing clarification as our district is being blamed for unfair labor practices and “broken promises” that are untrue.

The Ashland School District has been working to negotiate with classified employees who are members of OSEA. There is disappointment and frustration that an agreement has not been reached. Some classified employees are siding with the district and supporting how they are handling the situation. We appreciate the hard job they have in keeping the district running for the benefit of all staff/students. At times the district needs to make decisions that may not be favorable, but are necessary to keep things operating, and this is their management right.

An advertisement appeared in the Daily Tidings on June 8 claiming “broken promises” on the part of the Ashland School District. This advertisement was not sanctioned by our membership; in fact, the membership was never asked about placing the ad.

The 2.5 percent salary increase mentioned was the same percentage the rest of the district employees received. The district paid employees steps in the amount of 3.5 percent as well as longevity. The district has not paid the COLA because bargaining is not yet finished.

There is an item remaining on the table yet to be resolved. The district has offered two proposals around the transportation work rules and the union turned them down. There is another option to resolve this issue: simply remove the transportation work rules from the bargaining table. Some members of the chapter feel there is a conflict of interest since our chapter president is a bus driver. In fact, an unfair labor practice has been filed that could financially affect her and only her.

The district takes care of its employees in many ways. We are self-insured and have no deductible for in-network services. This year there was a shortfall in our insurance plan and the district picked up these additional costs without asking for anything from employees. The district is currently paying our retirement. These exceptional benefits make up for the lower percents we receive in take home salary. This advertisement is simply another way to be antagonistic to the district and of no benefit to the bargaining process or mending relationships within the bargaining unit.

Ashland has a divided group of classified employees and the district had no part in creating this division. There is a trust issue among OSEA members and leadership. Members contacted state leaders in Salem and were told it is an internal problem and that the state cannot offer any help. A communication breakdown during last year’s negotiations led to members of the bargaining team being removed because they did not agree with the rest of the group. I believe we all have the right to our own views and opinions and should be able to freely express them.

Despite not receiving our COLA, classified staff have continued to come to work each day and do our jobs. We feel that giving in to the association, honoring the tentative agreement before all bargaining issues are completely settled, sets a bad precedent, and we applaud the district for standing firm. We are frustrated that our leadership team does not honor our requests to settle. We are not feeling heard, honored, respected or valued by our own representatives. We do not see how this dispute is helping anyone. In fact, it is causing a greater separation within the unit.

Past relationships between the Ashland School District and OSEA were achieved through mutual respect. Differences were honored and we worked together to create a win-win scenario. At times, we hit brick walls and had to reboot and create different avenues to get the job done. We are looking forward to the district and the union reaching a settlement and once again being able to sit across the table and reach consensuses on items that will benefit all employees as well as the district.

In the words of a fellow classified employee: When we all work together to reach the same goal there is nothing we cannot accomplish.

— Callie Mercer lives in Ashland.