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Lighthouse School teachers, board in contract dispute

COOS BAY — About a dozen Lighthouse School teachers, parents, classified employees and union representatives picketed The Lighthouse School on Tuesday afternoon over a disagreement in contract negotiations.

Ed Glazar, The World 

Teachers and supporters look for support from the public as they picket Tuesday outside of The Lighthouse School along U.S. Highway 101 in Coos Bay.

Contract negotiations between the union representing the teachers and classified employees of The Lighthouse School in Bunker Hill and the management of the Coos Bay public charter school have reached disagreement over binding arbitration.

By definition, binding arbitration is a judgment made by a third party to settle a dispute between two other parties, which is obligatory (both parties agree in advance to abide by the result). It is a common feature of union-negotiated agreements between K-12th grade school districts. The Lighthouse School Board, however, will not agree to binding arbitration and would instead impose a mediation process in which employee or union grievances are resolved through meetings between both parties to negotiate a resolution. If no resolution is reached, a final decision is made by the school board, according to Oregon School Employees Association Field Representative Steve Sears. OSEA is the union representing The Lighthouse School employees.

"We formed a union two years ago so we could work with management to create a fair and security-based contract," said Callie Hart, a second grade teacher at the school and president of the local OSEA chapter. "But management is unwilling to relinquish any control they (the school board) have had for 16 years and, instead, continues to treat us as if we never organized at all."

Sears said The Lighthouse School is the first charter school in the state to let the National Labor Relations Board represent them. Hart said an earlier draft of the contract contained binding arbitration, but a new lawyer, contracted by the Oregon School Boards Association and representing The Lighthouse School Board removed that clause in a later draft saying binding arbitration isn't necessary, because employees can resolve grievances through the mediation process.

David Turner, the attorney representing the school board said in a phone interview from Salem said a tentative contract had been reached between the two parties with the main sticking point being the binding arbitration clause.

Third grade teacher Erica Homann was among the teachers picketing in front of the school.

Ed Glazar, The World 

DeDe Murphy joins teachers picketing Tuesday outside of The Lighthouse School along U.S. Highway 101 in Coos Bay.

"Where we have locked heads is the binding arbitration," said Homann. "They have offered mediation, but its not binding and no fair oversight is given."

Homann said the teachers need protections to prevent some incidents that have happened in the past. She cited an example of teachers being laid off on the last day of their contracts with no proper grievance procedure in place. 

"They had nowhere to turn," she said.

Bernadette Kapocias, parent of a Lighthouse eighth grader, was picketing with the teachers Tuesday.

"Teachers need to be secure with their jobs," said Kapocias. "They need binding arbitration in their contract. I appreciate the management and I believe their hearts are in the right place, but there has to be a time when mediation does not work. Binding arbitration is the answer."

Physical education and art teacher Odysseus Frangopoulos said the teachers were out in front of the school to try and negotiate "something that we feel is fair."

"We feel binding arbitration is part of a common contract," said Frangopoulos. "It gives us some say in the process. We're not asking for anything special."

The teachers and employees will picket, again, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. today in front of The Lighthouse School immediately preceding the Light House School Board meeting at 7 p.m. which they will all also attend.

Isthmus slough bridge construction underway near Eastside of Coos Bay

COOS BAY — Monday marked the start of a construction project by Oregon Department of Transportation on the Isthmus Slough Bridge that will continue through fall 2019.

Ed Glazar, The World 

Vehicles cross the Isthmus Slough Bridge in Coos Bay on Tuesday afternoon. The Oregon Department of Transportation began a project this week that will focus on repairing the center and west approach of the bridge.

The Isthmus Slough Bridge is a draw bridge that connects Coos Bay and Eastside just beyond where U.S. Highway 101 splits off to Newport Lane.

Problems with the bridge include extensive cracking, exposed rebar on the deck of the westerly approach spans, pack rust in the truss elements, broken welds and missing bolts. The age and wear was noticed during some other replacements to the Isthmus Slough Bridge six years ago. A plan was made back then to address the current issues in a later project.

“Back in 2011, we had a project where the timber pilings holding up the east approach to bridge were replaced,” Project Information Officer with ODOT Dan Latham said.

Construction crews will be repairing the deck and drains of the bridge. Expansion joints will be reconstructed and cracks on the concrete surface of the bridge will be sealed. Workers will also repair welds, replace bolts, remove rust, and replace the draw bridge’s electrical system.

ODOT sent out 2,600 letters notifying Eastside residents of the new construction project. They also spoke with accepted input from local businesses.  

“With the earlier project we actually had to close the bridge for two weeks and everybody was detouring down Olive Barber Road. That’s about an eight- or 10-mile detour around. That was a major impact for the all the business and people who lived out there so we kept that in mind when we were planning this project,” Latham said.

ODOT plans to keep both lanes of the bridge open during daylight hours. There will be lane closures at night and around 10 times throughout the project. The bridge will be closed overnight. Lane and bridge closures will last from around 8 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“We’re trying to focus on having the impact at times where people aren’t really driving across the bridge very much,” Latham Said.  

Built back in 1931, the Isthmus Slough Bridge has most of the original electrical equipment installed when the bridge was built. One of the repairs unique to draw bridges are the steel grates that raise and lower when a boat comes through.

“We are replacing the steel grates, and the contractor thinks they can do at least one of those grates a night when those bridge closures do happen. If you’ve walked along the bridge, you’ve probably seen the office where they have the draw bridge operator. There’s a lot of really old equipment in there that we’ll be replacing,” Latham said.

Cost of the construction is estimated to be just under $9 million. The bid for the project was awarded to Hamilton Construction Company. Hamilton Construction was contracted for the previous repairs to the Isthmus Slough Bridge.

The Isthmus Slough Bridge has about 8,700 vehicles travel over it every day. The draw bridge opens up to maritime traffic a couple of times a year on average.

US greets talk of N. Korea nuke concessions with hope, skepticism

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump greeted North Korea's reported willingness to negotiate away its atomic weapons with both hope and skepticism Tuesday, insisting a potential diplomatic breakthrough be tested against the North's long history of deception and threats to target U.S. cities with nuclear missiles.

"I really believe they are sincere," Trump said at a White House news conference, sounding more optimistic than his intelligence chief, Dan Coats, who told a Senate hearing he has "very, very low confidence" that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un intends to give up his nuclear arms.

"Maybe this is a breakthrough. I seriously doubt it," Coats said.

A senior South Korean presidential adviser said Tuesday that Kim expressed a willingness to discuss nuclear disarmament and halt nuclear and missile tests during future talks with the United States. The North didn't confirm those concessions, which would amount to a dramatic about-face for a nation that has frequently vowed to preserve its nuclear arsenal at any cost.

Chung Eui-yong, the South Korean official who spoke after participating in talks with Kim in Pyongyang, also said the North Korean dictator had agreed to meet with South Korea's president at a border village in late April.

Trump, who last fall told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson he was "wasting his time" trying to talk with the North, tweeted Tuesday that "possible progress" had been made in North Korea's capital and that all sides were making serious efforts. He added: "May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!"

Later, in an Oval Office photo session with Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven, Trump said the North Koreans "seem to be acting positively," but that the prospects will be clearer when diplomacy moves to the next stage.

"We have come certainly a long way, at least rhetorically, with North Korea," Trump said. Of the possibility for peacefully resolving the nations' deep differences, he said: "It'd be a great thing for the world, would be a great for North Korea, it would be a great thing for the peninsula. But we'll see what happens."

In Chung's account, Kim indicated he would not need to keep nuclear weapons if military threats against North Korea were removed and his nation received a credible security guarantee. That suggests the possibility Kim will insist in any deal that the U.S. withdraw its nearly 28,000 troops from South Korea. The North sees those forces and their periodic exercises with South Korean troops as a threat to invade the North.

The White House issued a brief statement from Vice President Mike Pence suggesting nothing has changed in that area. A U.S. official said there were no plans to scrap the war games envisioned for next month.

"All options are on the table, and our posture toward the regime will not change until we see credible, verifiable and concrete steps toward denuclearization," Pence said.

Separately, highlighting a less-discussed dimension of the standoff with North Korea, the Pentagon's military intelligence chief told a Senate hearing that Kim has taken a "far different" approach to military preparedness than his father, Kim Jong Il, by imposing greater rigor and discipline in army training. Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, called it a "big change" and implied the improvements should be taken into account in considering the prospect of war on the Korean peninsula.

North Korea's willingness to hold a "candid dialogue" with the United States to discuss denuclearization and establish diplomatic relations follows a year of increased fears of war, with Kim and Trump exchanging fiery rhetoric and crude insults over Kim's barrage of weapons tests. The Trump administration also pushed through some of the harshest economic sanctions any country has ever faced.

Trump said Kim's apparent willingness to negotiate is likely due to the sanctions, and China's role in applying them.

Still, there is wide skepticism that Tuesday's developments will bring genuine peace between the Koreas, which have a long history of failing to follow through with major rapprochement agreements. The United States has made it clear it doesn't want empty talks with North Korea and that all options, including military measures, are in play until the North actually surrenders its nuclear weapons, believed to number around 30.

"We have seen nothing to indicate ... that he would be willing to give up those weapons," Coats said.

Chung said the two Koreas would hold a summit at a South Korea-controlled facility. He said Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will establish a "hotline" communication channel to lower military tensions, and would speak together before the get-together.

It would be the third such summit since the Koreas' 1945 division. Kim Jong Il met liberal South Korean presidents in Pyongyang in 2000 and 2007. They resulted in a series of cooperative projects that were scuttled during subsequent conservative administrations in South Korea.

Prescription opioids fail rigorous new test for chronic pain

CHICAGO — A yearlong study offers rigorous new evidence against using prescription opioids for chronic pain.

In patients with stubborn back aches or hip or knee arthritis, opioids worked no better than over-the-counter drugs or other nonopioids at reducing problems with walking or sleeping. And they provided slightly less pain relief.

Opioids tested included generic Vicodin, oxycodone or fentanyl patches although few patients needed the most potent opioids. Nonopioids included generic Tylenol, ibuprofen and prescription pills for nerve or muscle pain. The study randomly assigned patients to take opioids or other painkillers. That's the gold standard design for research.

If they don't work better than less risky drugs, there's no reason to use opioids given "their really nasty side effects — death and addiction," said lead author Dr. Erin Krebs, a physician and researcher with the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

The results likely will surprise many people "because opioids have this reputation as being really powerful painkillers, and that is not what we found," Krebs said.

The results echo less rigorous studies and bolster guidelines against routine use of opioids for chronic pain.

The study was published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

About 42,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. in 2016 involved opioids, including prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl. Many people get hooked while taking opioids prescribed for injuries or other short-term pain and move on to cheaper, more accessible illicit drugs like heroin.

A report released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found emergency rooms saw a big jump in overdoses from opioids last year. Opioid overdoses increased 30 percent late last summer, compared with the same three-month period in 2016. The biggest jumps were in the Midwest and in cities, but increases occurred nationwide. The report did not break down overdoses by type of opioid.

U.S. government guidelines in 2016 said opioids are not the preferred treatment for chronic pain, and they recommend non-drug treatment or nonopioid painkillers instead. Opioids should only be used if other methods don't work for chronic pain, the guidelines recommend. Prescribing rates have declined slightly in recent years although they are still much higher than two decades ago.

Krebs said the strongest evidence from other studies shows that physical therapy, exercise or rehabilitation therapy works best for chronic pain. And she said noted that there are a variety of nonopioid drugs to try if one type doesn't work.

The study involved 234 patients from Minneapolis-area VA clinics who were assigned to use generic versions of opioids or nonopioids for a year. Follow-up ended in 2016.

"This is a very important study," said Dr. David Reuben, geriatrics chief at UCLA's medical school. "It will likely change the approach to managing long-term back, hip and knee pain."

He noted one limitation — most study participants were men, but Krebs said the results in women studied were similar.

The study's opioid patients started on relatively low daily doses of morphine, oxycodone or generic Vicodin. They switched to higher doses if needed or to long-acting opioids or fentanyl patches. The nonopioid group started on acetaminophen, ibuprofen or similar anti-inflammatory drugs. They also could switch to higher doses or prescription nonopioid pain pills. Few in either group used the strongest medicines.

Patients reported changes in function or pain on questionnaires. Function scores improved in each group by about two points on an 11-point scale, where higher scores meant worse function. Both groups started out with average pain and function scores of about 5.5 points.

Pain intensity dropped about two points in the nonopioid group and slightly less in the opioid patients.

Other research has shown that over-the-counter medicines can also work as well as opioids at treating short-term pain, including from broken bones, kidney stones or dental work.