New benefits include retirement account match, paid Indigenous Peoples Day
By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news
Negotiators signed a tentative agreement Thursday, avoiding a possible strike by Ashland School District classified personnel. The agreement came after a third mediated negotiating session Tuesday, a day after about 70 demonstrators turned out for a rally outside the district office on Siskiyou Boulevard in Ashland.
Representatives of the Ashland chapter of Oregon School Employees Association (OSEA) were prepared to declare an impasse this week that could have led to a strike, said Lisa March, Ashland OSEA chapter president. Instead, they reached a tentative verbal agreement Tuesday evening, added signatures on Thursday, and she’s celebrating a new contract and gains for classified employees.
The agreement still needs to be approved by OSEA chapter members and the Ashland School Board.
Classified employees in Oregon make anywhere from $12,000 to $35,000 per year, according to OSEA officials. Following a rally on Monday held by union officials and employees calling for what they believe to be equitable and fair pay, the tentative agreement gives classified employees, among other things:
- A matching amount of up to $25 per month to classified 403(b) retirement accounts (a supplementary retirement savings plan similar to 401(k) plans in the private sector).
- A paid Indigenous Peoples Day off.
- A 2.25% cost of living allowance (COLA) wage increase.
- An outside firm hired by the district and the union would compare classified wages to other districts.
“We did make some concessions. We accepted a lower COLA,” March said. “We still have work to be done to get our wages competitive.”
March said the district match to classified retirement accounts is less than the $50 match to other employees, but she sees it as progress and a “foot in the door. It’s something we’ve never had before,” March said. “It really encourages people to save for their retirement and the district will be helping them do that with that matching fund.”
March said another concession made by classified employees union was a
an estimated 40% reduction in overall longevity benefits for employees who have worked for the district eight or more years, a rate that the district was willing to compromise with the union, according to March.
The new contract provides a flat longevity benefit rate, instead of a percentage of pay, March said.
“We didn’t get as much in the longevity as we wanted, but it did come up significantly,” March said. “We got the district to agree to a significant increase from where they were before.”
Classified employees will now be able to keep their longevity benefits if they have worked 25 years or more. These employees will be grandfathered into the previous plan, and continue to receive a larger bonus, March said.
“The new model of longevity, I like it, because it offers a larger bonus to someone who first enters longevity,” she said. “However the overall bonuses you’ll get from your career are not as high … there’s a cap. So you’ll never get more than $5,000 a year in longevity.”
The school district works on a eight-step scale for pay, March said.
“Every year, you move up a step and you get what’s called a step raise,” She said. “So after you’ve completed your eighth year of service, you move into what’s called ‘longevity.’ That means you’ll always be on step eight, but you’ll get a longevity bonus on top of that every year and those longevity bonuses have tiers, so every few years, you’ll move up a tier, and you’ll get a larger bonus. It’s to reward people for their years of service to the district and it helps retain people.”
The new contract includes a provision to commission an independent review of district wages for classified employees compared to other districts. The expense will be shared between the district and the union.
“We want it in time so that the next budget committee can be informed with … this is what wages are,” March said. “Where we compare to other school districts in the region.”
March believes the rally Monday, which she said drew at least 70 people, had a “huge” impact on the final mediation on Tuesday.
“When we went into mediation (Tuesday), we saw significant movement from their side,” March said. “Before, we had talked about, ‘You know, We don’t want to get to a strike,’ but we didn’t seem to be taken seriously. And I think the rally really made the impact that … we’re fighting, we’re not backing down.”
The pending tentative agreement must still be ratified by union members as well as the Ashland School Board before it becomes official.
Union members tentatively plan to ratify the proposed agreement by March 8.
District Superintendent Samuel Bogdanove said Friday he’s satisfied with the tentative agreement negotiated with classified employees this week.
The tentative agreement would run through 2025. It includes a 2.25% increase in the next three consecutive years.
Instructional support staff, including educational assistants, would see an increase of $1.25 an hour in pay. Crossing guards, youth advocates, bus drivers, custodial staff, food service workers, the cafeteria manager, maintenance workers, and athletic and office managers will get a $1 an hour increase.
“We are excited to have reached a tentative agreement between the district and OSEA Chapter 42 on a three-year contract pending a vote by membership and approval by the school board,” Bogdanove said in a written statement to Ashland.news. “The agreement, if ratified, offers competitive compensation and benefits to help us recruit and retain an amazing group of employees that makes a huge difference for our kids. I am grateful for the hard work and collaboration for all of those involved in the bargaining process.”
The contract also allows potential for inclusion in the district’s long-term disability plan for employees working 20 or more hours, pending an agreement with the Ashland Education Association to join the same plan.
Feb. 25 update: Headline changed to reflect the agreement is tentative.
Feb. 25, 5 p.m. update: District reaction added to story.