December 21, 2007 Volume 108 Number 24

AFSCME strike at MESD ends after two weeks

A two-week strike by classified employees at the Multnomah Education Service District ended shortly after 3 a.m. on Dec. 15, following a 13-hour mediation session.

“It’s an agreement both sides can live with, and our bargaining team is recommending ratification to the members,” said Don Loving, public affairs director for Oregon AFSCME Council 75. Some 380 classified employees are members of AFSCME Local 1995. A ratification vote is scheduled for Dec. 27.

The tentative agreement is for two years and includes a 2 percent wage increase retroactive to July 1, 2007, a 2.5 percent wage increase on July 1, 2008, and a longevity pay increase effective July 1, 2008. Over half of the bargaining unit will qualify for at least the first level of longevity pay (1.5 percent of gross salary for those with 10 years of service).

On health insurance, the union accepted the district’s proposal for the first year of the contract. However, MESD will raise the amount it pays on the insurance caps in the deal’s second year.

A key issue in the dispute was the level of increase in the district’s contribution to health insurance for those who work 30 hours a week. When calculating benefits, most other education districts consider permanent 30-hour-a-week employees to be full-time. Not Multnomah EDS. The largest single sub-group of union members at MESD — about 175 educational assistants who work six hours a day one-on-one with special needs students in eight Multnomah County school districts — are permanent 30-hour per week employees.  

In an effort to ensure an orderly back-to-work transition, the union and the district agreed that all striking employees will return to paid status as of Monday, Dec. 17. However, those workers will not be required to actually return to work until their first regularly scheduled shift on or after Jan. 2, 2008.

Additionally, Loving said AFSCME will not drop two lawsuits and an unfair labor practice complaint filed during the strike.

A federal lawsuit filed Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court seeks injunctive relief and damages from MESD for allegedly violating union members’ rights of free speech under both the U.S. and Oregon constitutions by issuing threats and directives intended to limit the union’s lawful picketing and hand-billing activities.

A second lawsuit filed in Dec. 13 in Multnomah County Circuit Court charges MESD with willfully violating Oregon’s open meetings law. The suit contends that MESD canceled its regularly scheduled Nov. 20 public meeting at 7 p.m. because it knew union members planned to attend the session and speak out against the board’s plan to implement its final contract offer. On Nov. 17, the district sent an e-mail to constituents that the Nov. 20 meeting would be canceled, but that there would be an Executive Session held via telephone on Nov. 19. Ultimately the board met again by teleconference on 9 a.m. Nov. 20, at which time it voted to implement its final offer.

“MESD has violated the law in several areas,” Loving said. “Oregon’s open meetings law requires the district to give adequate public notice and conduct operations ‘in the sunshine’ of public scrutiny. In addition, if a governing body is aware that a certain group of persons have a special interest in a particular action, those persons must be notified.”

 Loving said the union was never notified of the changes in the meetings, that the e-mail notice of the time changes did not meet the general requirements of public notification, and that the district did not make any place available for anyone from the public to listen to the teleconferences as is required by law.

 The ULP complaint focuses on MESD’s refusal to bargain in good faith, as required by law.