Union, school district agree

After a nine-and-a-half hour negotiating session the Oak Harbor School District and the Public School Employees union reached a tentative agreement early Friday morning on a three-year contract.

The agreement provides pay raises and more health insurance money for union employees. It also outlines terms in which employees can transfer positions.

“We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we did get the things that members felt were most important,” said Carl Leonard, president of the PSE union. The 282-member union represents maintenance workers, bus drivers, business office staff, computer network staff and instructional assistants. The school district pays $5.5 million in salary and benefits to union employees.

Under the agreement, the contract will increase by $429,000 over the course of three years. Union employees are receiving an additional $60,000 over three years that covers a state-funded 1 percent pay increase. Any further increases approved by the state are also worked into the contract, according to a news release from the PSE union.

Joe Hunt, school district communications director, said state money covers about 40 percent of the pay increases for employees and the school district has to pay the remainder.

The agreement also calls for an additional $5 per month for health insurance next year. That amount increases to $10 in year three of the agreement.

In making the agreement, the school district dropped its proposal to have employees remain on the job for a minimum of six months before being allowed to transfer positions. School district officials wanted the provision to recoup costs in training new employees while union officials said employees should be able to transfer to higher-paying positions that provide more hours when position come open.

“It was a good movement on both sides and that was key to coming up with an agreement,” Hunt said.

Leonard said the transfer issue was a key point among union members.

“That was the deal breaker,” Leonard said.

Union and school district negotiators met Thursday evening for the first time in nearly two months. Beginning at 5 p.m., negotiators worked until 2:30 a.m. Friday hammering out an agreement.

“It soon became apparent that they were trying to make an agreement,” Leonard said.

With a tentative agreement reached, union membership still has to decide whether to approve the contract, which would be effective from last September.

Leonard said the membership will vote Tuesday whether to accept the contract.

PSE’s union contract expired Aug. 31 2004. The two sides have been negotiating since last April. Talks stalled in early January without an agreement. On Feb. 15, union members approved a pre-strike resolution and set a 15-day deadline for a contract to be approved. Members approved the resolution 147-23.

“I think the district had no idea of the support we had from our members,” Leonard said.

Leonard said the school district contacted the union Thursday afternoon saying they wanted to start talking.

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