MEDFORD, Ore. — Jackson County and the union for its public employees have reached a new contract agreement after months of dissent, according to SEIU Local 503.
Local 503 members voted over the weekend on a tentative contract with the County. Communications director Ben Morris said that union members voted “with overwhelming support” to ratify the contract. Local 503 has about 500 members.
According to Morris, coronavirus concerns spurred union members and the County to move from contract concerns to safety concerns for both public employees and for the County at large.
Contract negotiations between Jackson County and Local 503 reached an impasse at the end of January after the two sides could not agree on a fair contract. For workers, the sticking point came down to healthcare coverage — union members supported joining the statewide Public Employees Benefits Board (PEBB), which the County opposed.
At the beginning of March, Local 503 members voted to strike — but the arrival of COVID-19 in Jackson County and the resulting public health response put a pause on those plans. The union instead lobbied Jackson County, which relies on public employees for the coronavirus response, to enter binding arbitration in order to reach a speedy end to the dispute.
“Our union has been in negotiations for over a year,” said Angela Cruthirds, a member of the employee’s bargaining team, in a March 24 statement. “We have been working for more than seven months without a contract and with no security about the future of our healthcare plans. Many county employees are still unable to afford basic healthcare and there is a real concern around how a significant outbreak among employees would impact services.”
Morris says that County worker health care and pay raises were key to ratification of the contract this week. He says the new agreement asks for 7.5 to 11 percent wage increases, which adjust depending on the County’s cost-of-living scale during the contract term through 2021. The pending contract includes a 3.5 percent wage increase immediately.
The new plan has lower cost and richer benefits as negotiated with the County, according to Morris.
Bargaining teams from both sides reached the tentative agreement on Friday ahead of a weekend vote by the union, Morris said. With union support, the agreement now awaits final approval by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
The union says the contract is not retroactive to the seven months Jackson County union staff members worked without a contract.