Lighthouse charter school negotiations hit a snag

Members of The Lighthouse School Chapter 160 had hopes of settling their first contract last week after organizing two years ago, but negotiations have hit a snag over binding arbitration. With both sides at loggerheads, the union will be conducting informational pickets in front of the charter school on Tuesday and Wednesday, March 6 and 7.

Members of The Lighthouse School Chapter 160 — from left, Amanda Rowe, Autumn Watson, Suzanne Adams and Erica Homann — prepare informational signs at a picket-making party held last week.

“We formed a union so we could work with management to create a fair and security-based contract,” Chapter President Callie Hart said. “But management is unwilling to relinquish any of the control they have had for 16 years; instead, they continue to treat us as if we never organized at all.”

The teachers and classified employees of the public charter school in Coos Bay are fighting for more equitable pay and benefits, “just cause” as a measure of fair discipline and — most importantly — binding arbitration to enforce the contract.

Last week, the chapter started leafleting parents before and after school, as well as held a picket sign-making party before a school board meeting where about 25 supporters helped make the case for binding arbitration during an hour of public comment.

“We’re not going to let up our pressure on the board until we get binding arbitration,” Hart said.

Binding arbitration is a common feature of union-negotiated agreements covering public K-12 school districts. Yet, The Lighthouse School Board of Directors disingenuously maintains a mediation process will best resolve contractual disputes.

“Ultimately, mediation does not provide the parties with a neutral decision-maker,” explained Susan Miller, OSEA’s director of field operations. “Instead, mediation allows the school to implement its will on teachers and staff if the parties cannot resolve the dispute collectively. This one-sided process gives the school the ability to violate the contract without recourse.”

Miller remains hopeful that the chapter will be able to prevail. She noted that the chapter is “pulling out all the stops” and gaining community support. The chapter will be conducting an informational picket prior to the board’s next meeting on March 7.

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