The Medford Education Association and the Medford School District have been bargaining since April 2023, and educators have been working without a contract since July 1st 2023.
Bargaining Update: 11/20/23
MEA Bargaining Unit Members:
Since our last update, we have had a Zoom general membership meeting on November 15th and two sidebar bargaining sessions on the 17th. Two members met from 8-12 on the 17th to discuss Article 12 – Electronic Surveillance, Student Behavior Process, Nurses, Medford Online Academy, and Definitions. Then later that day from 3-6 we sent three people to discuss special education in Article 12. We expect the District to make a full Article 12 proposal on the 28th.
We had a lot of questions during our last two all member Zoom meetings. Here is a snippet of some of the questions and our answers on those in the order in which they were asked. If a question was asked more than once or in different ways we tried to combine them.
Q: “Why does the District permanently propose reducing safety by shifting classified duties to us?”
A: We can’t fully answer this question. It’s short sided and given other obligations licensed staff have it means when staff can’t fulfill this obligation there will be the illusion of safety when no one is there. The bottom line is we can’t keep shifting obligations to licensed staff without removing other workload.
Q: “How much of what Phoenix/Talent negotiated will we be able to leverage with our own negotiating?” “Does Portland Public Strike help us?”
A: We use language in other contracts to help show what is possible, and a model for what Medford can do so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We don’t know that we can leverage the language from any contract, but we certainly will use it as a model. The same can be said for the PPS/PAT strike. It may be a guide for us, but Medford is Medford, and your bargaining team will make decisions on what makes the most sense here.
Q: “The district seems to be dragging their feet, does mediation benefit them?” “It feels like the district is stalling and stringing us along, at what point does mediation become the next step?”
A: Mediation can benefit either party, and it’s very situation specific. Daniel’s experience on mediation is it’s most effective when one or both bargaining teams lack the skills to get to a deal. A mediator brings that skill set to the table. The downside of mediation is the parties usually aren’t together anymore, and it slows the process down.
Q: “Is there a timeline as to how long we wait before we vote on strike or not?” “How long will this drag on for before we decide to strike? Is this something we should really think may happen?”
A: There is no intent or plan to hold a strike vote in the near future. More generally, ORS 243.712 outlines the process. One or both parties can request mediation now that 150 days have passed. Once mediation happens with the state conciliator and 15 days have passed either side can declare impasse. Then we have seven days to submit final offers. Then a thirty-day cooling off period occurs. Then the Association provide a ten-day notice of the intent to strike, or the District provides a notice of their intent to implement. Somewhere in that fifty-two plus day time period members would vote on if they wanted a strike.
Q: “There is zero evidence that the district cares, or will suddenly care about a fair contract. What is the play here by the district? With The "we don't value teachers" approach, what do you feel is the reason for this? Why is there zero value for Medford educators, and what would be their reason for aggressively work against us and not with us? What is the play? We went on strike for less than this in 2013.”
A: This is a fair question, but a hard one for us to answer. We agree with your observations. Some of it is due to a lack of knowledge, skill, and or experience at the District Office. Other reasons are the different perspective management brings to the table. Ultimately it doesn’t matter. We bring balance to the process by presenting employee perspectives and pushing the District to think about long term consequences. Organizing has shown to be effective to encourage districts to reach a fair contract, and that’s why we believe we will eventually get there.
Q: “Why are we not getting extra pay when we take on students from another class when a teacher is absent with no sub? How do we fix this?”
A: Our Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) expired. We’ve had trouble getting to agreement on a new MoA. Please reach out to your admin to encourage them to help get this back in place. Long term, we plan to bargain this language into the Contract so this will stop being an issue.
Q: “Do we have a dialogue with the board about what is going on? Who else cares if the district admin doesn't? I don't know the power logistics.” “Are any of the board members of the school district directly involved in the bargaining meetings?”
A: Yes we have dialogue with the Board. Three Board members have joined the District bargaining this fall and are there for full bargaining session. They also hear comments in Board meetings and receive our updates.
Q: “Who at the district side should we email directly with our concerns? School board?”
Q: “Are we pushing for a two or three year contract? What are the pros/cons of each?”
A: We’ve proposed a two-year agreement. We’re open to a three-year agreement like the District has proposed. The District has not been effectively addressing many employee and school issues with the Association, and has reduced conversations with us. A shorter contract forces them to come to the table and work on those issues. A longer contract makes sense when things are working, and the parties have effective problem solving and communication.
Q: “Should we be concerned that the DO website says their goal is to have a contract by the End of the School Year?” “Why didn’t we start bargaining sooner or bargain longer days?”
A: This is another question that’s hard to answer. It’s perfectly fine to have an aspirational goal. A hard deadline on the other hand makes us nervous. As most of our members know, we tried to start bargaining in February. When we did start bargaining the Association pushed for longer sessions and full days. The District wasn’t interested in this until the fall.
Q: “What’s the deal with OEBB in the District’s proposal?” “Are we considering OEBB?” “The District makes OEBB sound like a bad thing – is it?”
A: OEBB is the Oregon Educator’s Benefit Board. Most Oregon school districts in Oregon get insurance through them including 9 of the 11 districts in the Rogue Valley. We model our current self-insurance on OEBB plans per the current Contract language. The challenge of self-insurance is we serve as both the employer and insurer, so we have a conflict of interest to spend less money on plans. As a result, all indications are we spend less than any other employer on insurance than any other district in Southern Oregon which results in costs being shifted to employees. The District proposal if we stay self-insured will further increase that employee cost because: 1) they propose instead of a 100% paid plan that will fall to 95% paid, 2) that decrease is retroactive to the start of the school year and you will have to pay that money out retroactively, and 3) there will be further decreases in both increased employee cost and reduced benefits.
Q: “If/when we get a contract we are willing to sign....how long after we sign does it go into effect? Is there a timeline for when we get the backpay after it goes into effect?”
A: It’s retroactive to July 1, 2023 in most instances, and back pay is usually in the next payroll. We usually bargain this at the table so we won’t know till we get an agreement. So far both the Association and the District have proposed all elements of the Contract will be retroactive to July 1st.
Q: “Them bringing Kim Wallen in to consult in bargaining is really a slap in the face ... Do we know who at district requested her or allowed her in?” “Wasn’t Kim Wallen a big part of why we struck in 2014?”
A: Dr. Champion has gone on record that Kim Wallen is not consulting with the school board or the District.
Q: “Are there any districts in the valley in which the employee pays their own portion of the PERS?”
A: Yes, Grants Pass and Butte Falls do. Last Daniel checked over 75% of public employers in Oregon did. This is something we should have changed in 2003 and we are way overdue to correct it.
Q: “How do new members get MEA shirts?” “Where do we go to get an MEA shirt if we don't have one?”
A: The order is in, and we’ll distribute them through building reps. If you don’t get one when they’re distributed, tell your building rep and what size you need.
Q: “I don’t get prep time. Can we change that?” “Is the district proposing removing prep for any employees?”
A: This is actually two independent questions. First, all bargaining unit members get prep time. If you’re not getting it talk to your administrator. If they don’t resolve it talk to your building rep. Second, yes, the District proposal removes prep for anybody that serves a role other than “teacher.” While we expect that to change in future proposals, two proposals so far have removed it.
Thank you to everyone that came to the rally on the 16th, especially to those that spoke! Our next regular bargaining sessions will be on November 28th at MEA from 12:00-7:15 pm , December 5th at Royal Ave. from 8:00 am-4:00 pm, and on December 13th from 12:00-8:00 pm at MEA with audience members in attendance. We hope to see you in person on the 28th!
Thank you again for your continued support of your bargaining team as we work to bargain the support you all need to provide the best possible services to students! Happy thanksgiving to you and yours. As a bargaining team we’re thankful for such great members. Use the long weekend to try to recover and enjoy the time away.