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Teachers: Bargain now, bargain fair

If mediation fails, the teachers could choose to strike
by: Jaime Valdez Metzger Elementary teacher Brian Haliski chants “bargain now, bargain fair” with teachers from across the Tigard-Tualatin School District at a rally outside the district office on Tuesday.

A large crowd of teachers carried signs and chanted slogans outside the Tigard-Tualatin School District main building Tuesday rallying to get the school district and teachers' union to come to an agreement over this year's contract.

Teachers in Tigard-Tualatin have been working without a contract since May.

The teachers chanted slogans such as, 'bargain now, bargain fair,' and, 'cut at the top,' as representatives from the teachers union, the Tigard-Tualatin Education Association and the district met separately with a state mediator for the first time.

'We have been waiting for the district to make concrete offers to the members who work for them,' said Brian Haliski, a second-grade teacher at Metzger Elementary School. 'That's what this support is tonight. This is the first showing by teachers to say that we are still waiting. We truly believe that it is possible to have a real positive negotiation that is not only best for the teachers in the end, is the best for the students and will help with student success.'

Others at the meeting had words to say to both sides of the bargaining table.

'We just want to be able to bargain. I don't think anything has been give or take on either side and that's not a good place to be,' said Diane Bonica, a kindergarten teacher at Deer Creek Elementary School. 'You're just stuck, and you could be stuck there forever.'

The district last met with mediation with the teachers union three years ago. That time TTEA and the district were able to come to an agreement outside of mediation.

The TTEA represents about 700 teachers and other licensed staff such as librarians and nurses.

A mediator with the Oregon Employment Relations Board met first with the school district and then TTEA bargaining teams.

District Supt. Rob Saxton said that while no final agreements were made at Tuesday's meeting, the two groups are making headway.

'We worked on four different articles in the contract the mediator thought might be the easiest to get some conclusion on, probably. We didn't make an agreement but I do think we closed the distance on each of those,' said.

TTEA officials requested the help of a mediator in December, after it became clear that talks with the district were at a standstill.

The teachers union has requested a 1.45 percent salary boost to account for increased cost of living, plus and 18 percent increase to their health insurance coverage and a 5 percent salary increase known as 'step' for teachers with fewer than 15 years of experience

The district has to give teachers a 0.5 percent cost of living boost, a 5 percent 'step' increase and a 5 percent increase to health insurance coverage.

The TTEA is also asking for improved health insurance compensation. Currently TTEA members receive the lowest health care compensation among Tigard-Tualatin's salaried employees.

Mediation will continue in February. There are only two mediators in the state that handle these sorts of issues, Saxton said, and mediation sessions are usually limited to once per month until an agreement is reached.

'That means that when we do meet it's important to make good progress,' Saxton said.

If the groups fail to reach an agreement through mediation either side can declare an impasse, or an end to negotiations where both sides would present their final offers.

After 30 days the district could choose to impose its latest offer and the union could choose to strike.

Back at the rally, Bonica carried balloons with helpful messages for her bargaining team.

'The people who represent the teachers are my voice and please listen to them,' she said. 'Because, beyond everything else, I love my job and I love my career and all of this other stuff that gets in the way is scary for me because it will impact how I approach my life. That means it has to impact how I approach my teaching.'

The next mediation session is scheduled for Feb. 22.