Lane Community College is in a bind between employee health care costs and student needs because of the lack of state funding.

The Lane Board of Education stated earlier this year that they don’t want to spend any more money on healthcare for their employees which means the rising costs of healthcare would have to come out of employee salaries.

The Lane Community College Education Association, the faculty union, is currently bargaining with the Board of Education over salaries and health care costs, among other things such as the role of faculty in the Center for Teaching and Learning once it’s established. President of LCCEA Jim Salt said that they have reached a tentative agreement that he expects will become finalized after a few minor changes.

This differs from when the Lane Employee Federation, the classified union, almost went on strike back in September over similar issues. The key difference is that the classified union’s health care costs have gone up, while the faculty union’s health care costs have gone down. That doesn’t mean that everything is fine for faculty union though, because if their costs do go up the burden will be on them, unless they successfully get Lane to change their language.

Both the faculty and employee unions have given up wage increases over the years in order to keep the benefits that they have, so it’s no surprise that that precedent would be hotly contested. From the board’s perspective, Lane has been having budget issues in recent years as full-time enrollment dwindles.

These kinds of issues are aggravating because it feels like a zero sum game. On one hand I think healthcare isn’t something the employees should have to worry about for their families, even if the costs continue to rise. Unions are fantastic because they can contest mistreatment and fight for improved living conditions, so I would never want to limit their powers.

On the other hand, if Lane decides they need to raise tuition costs in order to pay for these things, that leaves some students unable to attend college. Lane is the only community college in the Eugene/Springfield area, so it’s the only option in this area for people who don’t have scholarships or economic privilege. Fewer  people are able to afford college without massive student loans, especially considering the state’s minimum wage is abysmal, making it impossible for low wage workers to pay for college on their own.

Lane shouldn’t have to function like a corporation, shorting their employees’ wages and benefits in order to provide a better product to the customer, in this case, students. Legislators are supposed to be putting enough money into schools to make education affordable for anyone who is capable and willing without compromising the wages and benefits of their employees. We live in the richest country in the world so I know this is possible, just our current political landscape doesn’t allow it.

If measure 97 had passed, or if a similar measure passes in the future it might eliminate these budget struggles.

Unfortunately, neither Lane nor the unions can change the amount of money the school gets from taxes. I hope the bargaining ends with Lane’s employees getting at least close to their ideal wages and benefits. As for Lane, I hope they realize that if they decide to line their pockets while putting the costs onto students it will only further Lane’s budget issues because fewer students will enroll in the future.