After months of failed negotiations with the Lane Board of Education, the classified employee union is preparing to strike. The two sides are debating the rising cost of healthcare and how those costs should be paid for.

The Lane Community College Employee Federation, often referred to as the classified union or LCCEF, has been bargaining with the Board of Education since February.

When they were unable to reach an agreement they began the mediation, where a state appointed mediator facilitates a discussion between the two parties, in August, 2016. After continued mediation, if the two parties are still unable to reach an agreement, the union can call a vote to decide whether or not to officially declare a strike.

The classified staff is made up of maintenance workers, administrative assistants and any other staff that is not considered faculty or management. The union speaks on behalf of the classified staff about contract negotiations for wages, benefits, working conditions and rights.

According to the union, the classified staff wants the college to increase the amount of money going into their health insurance plans due to increasing costs of healthcare.

The board has proposed numerous changes to their health insurance plan that would be less expensive for the college and would give the classified staff a raise to supposedly cover increasing healthcare costs. The union has also proposed solutions that are within the college’s budget.

According to Bob Baldwin, the president of the classified union, the staff would rather have the money go directly into their healthcare where it can’t be taxed instead of into their paychecks where it can be taxed. The board, however, would rather have the compensation go into salaries so that each staff member may decide to use it how they wish instead of putting all of the money directly into healthcare.

“We don’t want to have a little bit of cash and then such an increase in the insurance costs that people end up with more cost then they got in raise,” Baldwin said, “Under the college’s plan anywhere from 100-160 of our contracted members with health insurance lose money.”

According to Sharon Stiles, the current chair of the Board of Education, Lane already pays $27,608 per employee for full family healthcare and flexible spending per year.

Classified staff member Pamela Farr spoke at the last board meeting in September saying that her son’s medical expenses total over $240,000 a year.

Board Vice Chair Rosie Pryor stated at the last board meeting that the increase the union is asking for would cost the school around $2.3 million.

“That’s not sustainable for the college to keep covering those increases in the health costs,” Stiles said.

The two parties are still in mediation to work out these problems. If the board and the union are unable to come to an agreement soon, the union will begin the process of going on strike.

Stiles says that if the union does go on strike the college will remain open. Although both parties hope to work out their differences without a strike, the board has already directed the administration to start planning for one.

“There is always the possibility for that [a strike],” Stiles said. “We hope it doesn’t come to that.”

The college made a proposal in the most recent mediation session on Oct. 3. If the two sides do not agree, another mediation session will likely be called before Oct. 24. According to Joan Aschim, Public Information Officer, President Spilde stated after the Oct. 3 session that “There was a good exchange of ideas.”