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.
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.
"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.