North Santiam reaches an agreement

After months of often acrimonious negotiation, North Santiam Chapter 122 finally reached a mediated contract agreement with the school district on Jan. 10.

“We accomplished in eight hours with a mediator what we couldn’t do in eight months of bargaining with the district,” OSEA Field Representative Gabe Ortega said. “Things went so much smoother and productively with the mediator.”

Members of North Santiam Chapter 122 rally prior to the October school board meeting. The chapter and district successfully reached an agreement through mediation in January, after eight months of bargaining.

Chapter President Sella Bemrose said she was impressed with the mediation process and believed it was worth the time and energy her negotiations team put into preparing for it.

“I just feel how sad it is that a complete stranger had to come in and explain to the district what negotiating is supposed to be like,” Bemrose said.

Bemrose credited the mediator with getting the district to move on contributing toward employee health spending accounts and health reimbursement arrangements.’

The final agreement adjusted the salary schedule to reflect the increase in the minimum wage, added an additional salary step, a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment, a longevity stipend as well as an increase to the district’s employee insurance benefits.

Although the chapter did not get all it wanted, Ortega said the agreement had a number of positive results.

“Membership salaries are no longer staying stagnant, with base salaries keeping pace with the rising minimum wage,” he said. “And we added a step, so there’s room for growth.”

Ortega said he was disappointed with how negotiations had gone with the district over the past year.

“I was anticipating at least a minimum degree of professionalism from the district team,” Ortega said, noting some of its members directed insults to the chapter bargaining team. “Insults are never acceptable and will never be tolerated from any member of the chapter bargaining team.”

The agreement will run through June 30, after which the chapter will need to bargain a multi-year successor agreement.

Bemrose said she is ready and cautiously optimistic about future negotiations.

“The district now knows we won’t be bullied or back down from what we know is fair and in the best interest of our members,” she said. “They also know our members support the negotiating team and will stand behind what we are fighting for,” she said.

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