Frequently asked questions about labor negotiations
July 16, 2009
Why do we negotiate?
What do we talk about?
How long should negotiations last?
Should negotiations be public?
What is mediation?
What is a Uniserv Representative?
What is the school board’s role?
What is the board’s obligation during the term of the contract?
What is the most recent average base salary increase for teachers?
What else is there besides traditional, adversarial bargaining?
Do early retirement incentive plans save districts money?
Why do we negotiate? [Top of page]
State law requires public employers to negotiate with employees. The Public Employees Collective Bargaining Act (PECBA) was passed in 1973. Since about 83 percent of district budgets go to staff salaries and benefits, spending priorities must be decided fairly and carefully with all parties concerned.
What do we talk about? [Top of page]
Oregon Revised Statutes (ORS) and rulings by the Employment Relations Board (ERB) dictate what can be discussed during negotiations. Items are divided among three subjects: Mandatory, permissive, and prohibited. Mandatory subjects deal with monetary benefits, hours, leave time, grievance procedures, and other conditions that directly relate to employment. Permissive subjects are management prerogatives such as determining class size, school calendar, standards of performance or criteria for evaluation, curriculum, dress and grooming standards and procedures for student discipline. Neither party can require the other to discuss a permissive item. A prohibited subject is one that is contrary to established state or federal law.
How long should negotiations last? [Top of page]
After the first bargaining session, parties have 150 days to exchange proposals. If both parties agree, this period may be shortened or extended. Either party may ask for a state-appointed mediator at the end of this period. The parties are required to spend 15 days in mediation. Either party can then declare impasse. Each party must then file its final offer with the mediator, along with a cost summary of the offer. The final offer and cost summary are made public. Thirty days after the final offer and cost summary are made public, the district can implement its final offer, or the employees can strike.
Should negotiations be public? [Top of page]
Oregon law allows negotiations to be done in public unless both parties request executive sessions. Bargaining in public is good policy. It demonstrates you are accountable to students, staff and the public.
What is mediation? [Top of page]
Mediation is an imposed statutory time period in which the parties settle differences with outside help. It can be declared at the end of the initial 150-day bargaining period. It lasts at least 15 days and starts from the first meeting. The mediator, employed by the state, is in control of the process. The teams meet with the mediator as often as needed. Teams can meet face to face, but generally do not. The mediator usually "shuttles" between the parties with proposals.
What is a Uniserv Representative? [Top of page]
The Oregon Education Association employs professional negotiators to represent local OEA chapters during negotiations. Called "Uni-serv" reps, they can represent both certified and classified staff. The Oregon School Employees Association can represent classified staff; their negotiators are called "field representatives."
What is the school board’s role? [Top of page]
Bargaining with employees is an important part of board duties. It ensures the community, through its elected school board, has direct involvement in setting policy and spending resources.
A board representative should be involved in the face-to-face negotiations, but be careful not to have a quorum of the board present. If a quorum is present, actions could immediately bind the board to a contract, which may not be in the district’s best interest.
What is the board’s obligation during the term of the contract? [Top of page]
It depends on whether the subject is a mandatory or permissive subject of bargaining. If the board makes a decision which has a material impact on wages, hours, terms and other conditions of employment; then the board must bargain the impact (e.g., change in hours). A permissive subject of bargaining is clearly a management prerogative or is designated as an exclusive management prerogative by the constitution, state law, or administrative rule.
What is the most recent average base salary increase for teachers? [Top of page]
The average increase has been 2.65% for those districts that have notified OSBA of their increases as of February 26, 2001.
What else is there besides traditional, adversarial bargaining? [Top of page]
Many districts use interest-based, collaborative bargaining. Such bargaining includes approximately five to10 people on each team. The teams then form into subcommittees, which study negotiation issues and recommend a solution to the entire group. For collaborative bargaining, the parties use a facilitator. OSBA and OEA have a joint program for training and facilitation in the collaborative bargaining process. Contact Human Resource Development at OSBA for further information.
Do early retirement incentive plans save districts money? [Top of page]
Early retirement programs became popular on the premise that school districts would replace experienced, higher paid staff with younger, less experienced staff and save payroll expense in the process. In theory, this was true; however, other factors have surfaced. As districts negotiated early retirement programs, paid health insurance premiums were included as a benefit, and those costs have escalated beyond initial projections. This increase has been expensive and frequently negated any savings. School districts have found that the funding of these programs is now at the expense of current year educational programs without the associated benefit to the district.
One other factor that was not anticipated was the educational and experiential levels of the replacement teachers. Most districts are finding that the replacement teachers that are hired have more education and, frequently, more experience; and therefore, the teachers are initially placed farther into the salary schedule. A considerable number of new teachers are obtaining additional education before they even enter the work force, with fifth year and Masters programs becoming more popular. This narrows the gap between the salary of the retiring teacher and the salary of the replacement teacher, which contributes to the early retirement program being less economically attractive.
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