Big Wins in Bargaining for OSEA Chapters

Across the state, OSEA chapters have won exciting new contract rights that will change members’ lives for the better.

We spoke with five OSEA chapters who recently signed collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with their employers have shared their wins and how they got them. While every OSEA chapter, employer and bargaining process is unique, it is clear that solidarity, perseverance and creativity can help education workers win at the bargaining table.

North Clackamas Chapter 71, which represents 1,015 classified workers in the North Clackamas School District, finished bargaining in July. Chapter President April Biancone, who is also OSEA Zone II director, said that listening to members and being open to new solutions were key to her chapter’s success. While health insurance has been the chapter’s main priority in recent bargaining cycles, it was no surprise that inflation and financial stress were workers’ primary concerns this year.

“The district pressured us to do the typical combination of small COLA and step increase each year of the contract. But what we heard from members who have been here for years and aren’t on the steps anymore was ‘I need help too. Inflation is killing me, too,’” Biancone said. Instead, the chapter fought for a larger COLA of 6.25 percent this year, which will benefit all workers, and a smaller COLA and step increase next year. Their other wins include an ongoing career recognition stipend to improve staff retention and three personal days to allow staff to take paid time off without needing to call out sick. The contract is popular with members, who voted overwhelmingly to ratify it. “Obviously, the stipends and wage increases are huge, just getting immediate money into our employees’ pockets,” said Biancone, who encourages chapter leaders to listen to their membership about what they need from their CBAs.

Working behind the scenes to win support from labor partners in the community made a difference in Eugene Chapter 1, says Chapter President Sheila Waggoner, who also serves as OSEA Zone IV Director. “We’ve made a point of working with other unions to support pro-union candidates and local causes. This contract is really a victory for labor throughout Lane County,” Waggoner said. “This is a huge victory for our union,” said Sheila Waggoner, OSEA Chapter 1 President and Zone 4 Director. “We know what classified employees need to succeed and stay in our jobs. We didn’t back down until we got it at the table.” This included an historic 20% raise over three years, with 12% retroactive to July 1, 2022.

Dallas Chapter 34 President Kelli McGuire, who heads a chapter representing 214 school employees in the Dallas school system, says membership strength boosts a chapter’s leverage at the bargaining table. Before and during bargaining this fall, the chapter’s membership grew from 50 to 60 percent as workers saw the union fighting for them and joined to support the effort. “I think everyone is starting to see what a unified group can do. They are realizing that a group that is working toward the same thing, versus just a few, is more valuable to all of us,” McGuire said.

The proof is in the contract: Chapter 34 secured COLAs of 8.1% to 10% over the next 3 years, as well as paid closure days, longevity stipends, an additional paid holiday and more. Although negotiations started out challenging, with the district proposing to strip classified of their vacation days to pay for a COLA, the bargaining team and chapter held out for better. “The district didn’t want to give us anything,” said McGuire. “We just held really firm in what we needed… and they were able to come up with a good COLA and help everybody out.”
McGuire is already working to build her chapter’s strength to bargain again in three years. “We’re telling people, ‘Look what we were able to do with 60% membership. Just think what we could do if we were a unified classified group going in with 100% membership!”

Chapter President Mary Marshall of Corvallis Chapter 2 also notes that chapter involvement, coupled with the tenacity of her bargaining team, helped them win several concessions in their new CBA. The chapter recently secured a six percent COLA retroactive to July 1, 2022, a step increase in January 2023 for all workers and a 2.5 percent COLA and step increase next July. It adds up to pay increases of 10 to 11 percent for most of the 488 workers in the bargaining unit.

“There were times it was hard to deal with,” Marshall admits. “But we just held on. We heard from our members that they needed this.” For 6 months, the bargaining team kept fighting for members, presenting the district with information about how members were struggling and how neighboring districts were supporting their staff. In the end, it worked. “The day I went in and the district agreed to everything, you could have knocked me over with a feather,” said Marshall. “But they saw that we were losing staff… the district listened to us and we’re really happy about that.”

Marshall emphasizes that it’s not all up to the bargaining team. Her entire chapter was more involved than they have been in previous negotiations. More employees joined the chapter, members showed up to support the bargaining team and workers reached out to their building representatives with questions. By staying engaged throughout the process, the chapter boosted the bargaining team’s strength during negotiations.

Every bargaining process is unique. Neah-Kah-Nie Chapter 93 was able to take a collaborative, solutions-based approach to bargaining with their district, said Chapter President Jamie Nugent, and it was effective. “We worked really well with the district. Being solution-based versus adversarial actually worked really well for us this time around,” she said.

Nugent says their chapter’s 4-year contract gives workers security during an uncertain economy. One of their biggest achievements was restructuring the contract to base steps on a percentage, rather than a flat rate, so annual pay increases grow with the worker. They also won COLAs of six percent this year, four percent for the next 2 years and three percent in the final year of the contract, as well as longer breaks and better compensation for workers who opt-out of employer-provided health insurance. “The new contract will benefit everyone in this economy,” Nugent believes. “Going into bargaining, a lot of people were really concerned about inflation so we were happy to secure a good cost of living adjustment.”

Success stories from these 5 chapters make it clear: when OSEA members stand together, we make a difference! What was your chapter’s bargaining experience? Email the Communications team your story.