Union, college back off from hard-line positions

A week after it looked like a teachers' strike was looming, both sides in the ongoing labor dispute at Mt. Hood Community College have said there may be hope for a resolution, with a face-to-face negotiation tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, March 22.

A 10-hour March 16 mediation session yielded progress on non-economic issues dividing the Faculty Association - which represents full-time teachers - and the college, according to Sara Williams, the Faculty Association's bargaining chairman, and Randy Stedman, the college's bargaining chairman.

Meanwhile, both parties are willing 'to withhold unilateral action' - a teachers' strike in response to the college imposing a contract - 'for a period of time to see if there is a path forward on the economic issues and the one or two remaining non-economic issues,' Stedman said.

Change of pace

'Yesterday's mediation was definitely a change of pace,' Williams told The Outlook, adding both sides had signed agreements on such non-economic contract articles as grievance procedures and well as keeping the ratio of full-time faculty versus part-time faculty at 60 percent to 40 percent.

Both sides made 'substantial progress in resolving the salary package … and on employee health insurance benefits,' Stedman said, adding both sides also made 'some progress' on issues related to payment for summer classes and extra classes.

Retiree health benefits remain a sticking point, Stedman and Williams said.

'The college has offered to grandfather all current early retirees, who receive 100 percent free health care for themselves and their spouses,' he said.

'For future retirees, however, the college is offering to pay a $525 per month subsidy for retiree health care, plus a 5-percent increase in the subsidy each year,' he added.

Williams said many teachers chose to work at Mt. Hood because of its current benefits package, so the union doesn't want any changes in retirement benefits that may affect current teachers. However, she said, the union may consider changing the package for any teachers who are hired after a new contract is signed.

On economic issues, 'though we are still far apart, the conversation yesterday was helpful in clarifying priorities and interests,' Williams said. 'It looks like another meeting to further discuss economics and the remaining non-economic issues will be arranged soon.'

'We were encouraged by the substantial progress made yesterday,' Stedman told The Outlook, noting he and Williams met twice prior to the mediation session.

'No commitments or proposals were made, but these preliminary meetings between the two bargaining chairs were productive and helped lay the groundwork for progress made (March 16),' he said.

Regarding economic issues, Stedman said both sides 'agreed not to exchange written proposals (March 16), but instead the two bargaining chairs met face-to-face several times during the day to exchange conceptual frameworks that might lead to a breakthrough on the entire package of economic issues.'

'While we have difficult work ahead, I was encouraged by the progress,' Stedman said.

The faculty has been working without a new contract since Aug. 31, 2010. On Feb. 14, the board declared an impasse in contract negotiations with the association, which represents about 160 full-time instructors.

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