SOU, union reach accord
Daily Tidings, August 21, 2013
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Daily Tidings August 19, 2013
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SOU, union reach accord
Three food workers near retirement keep positions
By Sam Wheeler
For the Tidings
August 21, 2013 2:00 AM
A compromise has been reached between Southern Oregon University and the Service Employees International Union over whether 15 union-represented food service workers would remain public employees at the school.
But the outcome of the negotiations has led to a union grievance and some unhappy workers.
“I really thought that we were going to come up with a nice compromise, but I’m sorry, this is not a compromise,” said 56-year-old Cheryl Ramirez, a 16-year SOU employee who was handed a layoff notice earlier this month along with 11 others.
Three who were a few years from retirement were retained by SOU in their original positions. Ramirez and several others with seniority were given the option of filling other open positions at SOU for which they qualify or “bumping” a lower-ranking classified employee and taking his position, said Jay Stephens, SOU director of human resources. Ramirez will be working in admissions.
The rest were left with two options: walk away or work for Minnesota-based A’viands Food and Services Management, which signed a 10-year contract with SOU over a year ago to manage its dining services, Stephens said.
“I understand it was a difficult process,” Stephens said. “Essentially everybody had an opportunity to keep their job or a job … the idea was to make sure everybody had a job.”
Although the opposite has been suggested by some of the employees and union representatives involved, “it certainly wasn’t a push by the university for anyone to lose their job,” Stephens said.
A handful had enough seniority and experience to retain their status as public employees in other positions at the school, said Danielle Wechselberger, SEIU Local 084 president at SOU, but most of them went to A’viands.
The food-service workers who made the jump to A’viands lost their membership in Oregon’s Public Employee Retirement System and access to public-employee benefits. But A’viands agreed to fully subsidize their costs for the company’s health insurance plan for as long as they work there.
Though the collective bargaining agreement between SEIU and the Oregon University System requires contractors such as A’viands to retain former public employees for only six months, A’viands agreed to nine months, Stephens said.
Ramirez said there is a clause in the agreement that allows A’viands to terminate any employee at any time for “just cause.”
“What does that mean?” Ramirez asked. “Going to A’viands, there is nothing good about it.”
The new A’viands employees also will not receive reduced tuition rates at Oregon public universities, which they enjoyed as public employees, because is is not possible legally, Stephens said.
“I am very disappointed with the way that this was handled on the administration side,” Wechselberger said. “I feel like that they (the employees) were not treated the way they deserve to be treated after all the years they dedicated to the college. … When you’ve given 15 or 16 years of your life to something, it feels like you are being thrown away.”
A task force formed in January to reach a compromise included university administration, SEIU representatives and classified employees, and it began positively, said Ramirez, who was involved in negotiations. But things began to deteriorate as the school year wore on.
The biggest blow to the group’s confidence came when SOU mistakenly estimated that moving the workers to A’viands would save the school about $105,000 annually. SEIU was challenged to find a way to match that savings, which it did by offering a proposal that would cut the workers’ schedule back from 12 to nine months out of the year.
All of the workers were onboard, but once that proposal was received, SOU realized it had miscalculated. The actual savings that needed to be met was $220,000 annually, and the proposal was rejected.
“How can we save that amount of money?” Ramirez said. “We can’t, they just don’t want us … they want to bust the union.”
Wechselberger wouldn’t go that far, but she doesn’t like the trend she is seeing across the state and nation.
“I feel like it has opened a door that is going to be hard to close. Contracting out does not save money in the long run,” Wechselberger said. “Unfortunately, SOU is looking for shortcuts to fix this budget crisis, and I don’t think it should be done on the backs of our lowest-paid workers.”
SEIU filed a grievance against SOU at the beginning of the year, but it was put on hold pending the outcome of negotiations. It has been reactivated and may lead to outside arbitration, Wechselberger said.
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SOU gets more ‘green’ recognition
August 19, 2013 12:45 PM
Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine, listed Southern Oregon University as number 26 on its annual list of green colleges and universities across the U.S.
This is the fourth straight year SOU has been on the list. It was ranked 99th in 2010, 38th in 2011 and 45th in 2012.
The ranking has to do with schools’ commitment to environmental sustainability.
Oregon State University is 11 and University of Oregon is 46 on this year’s list.
Raiders revving up for 2013
Lack of respect, based on polls, mystifies third-year coach Howard
By By Joe Zavala
for the Mail Tribune
August 20, 2013 2:00 AM
ASHLAND — The Southern Oregon University Raiders may have another two weeks to prepare for their season opener against Montana Tech, but when it comes to motivating his team, head coach Craig Howard appears to be in midseason form.
Howard didn’t mince words when asked about the Raiders’ place in both the national (14th) and Frontier Conference (third) coaches’ polls last week, questioning a perceived lack of respect and pointing out sizable jumps made in the national polls by two of SOU’s league rivals — Carroll College and Montana Tech.
“It’s amazing,” said Howard, who guided the Raiders to the national quarterfinals in 2012, his second season in Ashland. “It just shows that we’re not respected and that people believe we’re a one-year wonder and this program won’t last. They believe that the reason we had success last year was because of Cole McKenzie and Patrick Donahue and Michael Olson, and those guys graduated and we’re not going to be very good.”
Howard felt the Raiders should have been ranked higher in the league poll since they return 14 starters — six on offense, seven on defense, plus kicker/punter Colin Amsler — off a team that tied Montana Tech for the league title. And he doesn’t understand why SOU fell nine spots — the most significant drop in the nation — from its No. 5 spring ranking in the national poll.
“What happened from spring to summer to drop us nine spots?” he asked. “We didn’t even play a game.”
Eventually, Howard laughed off the snub, joked that SOU has won the Frontier Conference every year it has been eligible and finally acknowledged that, yes, Carroll earned the benefit of the doubt by winning six national titles between 2002 and 2010. One of Howard’s goals is to help the Raiders acquire the same kind of respect.
“It doesn’t matter where we’re ranked in the preseason,” he said. “It’s where you’re ranked postseason.”
To that end, Howard and company are busy figuring out, among other things, who will replace the aforementioned receivers, a competition that’s as important as any in SOU’s fall camp. McKenzie, Donahue and Olson combined for 254 catches for 3,980 yards and 34 touchdowns during last year’s record-shattering season, but all three graduated, meaning junior quarterback Austin Dodge must find a new set of targets.
So far, two players have stood out as strong candidates to bear at least some of that burden: Matt Retzlaff, a redshirt freshman out of South Medford High, and sophomore tight end Clay Sierra.
Retzlaff, whose older brother Ryan, a junior, is also vying for playing time, will likely open the season as SOU’s starting “Y” receiver, the right slot position held by Olson last year. Retzlaff knows SOU’s no-huddle spread offense well and has improved both his speed and strength in the offseason.
“He really looks good,” Howard said.
Sierra, SOU’s sixth-leading receiver a year ago with 24 catches for 329 yards and five TDs, is expected to become a bigger part of the Raiders’ offense this season after emerging as a deadly safety valve in 2012. At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Sierra provides a massive target with soft hands. He broke out with five catches for 118 yards, including an 85-yard catch-and-dash against Eastern Oregon, but didn’t see a lot of balls thrown his way down the stretch. That will probably change because Howard believes Sierra is simply too dangerous a weapon to leave on the shelf.
“When you have a true tight end that has that kind of speed and size and the ability to catch the ball, you’ve got to use him,” Howard said. “In a practice drill he caught a pass over the middle and nine guys bounced off him. So he’s got the power to run over you and the speed to run away from you.”
As for the other pass-catchers, Howard said the battles for playing time have been spirited and have yet to reveal definite starters. There are a few front-runners, however.
Teran Togia, a 6-1 sophomore who was a backup last year, has been playing with the starters, while Ryan Retzlaff (6-0, 185) and Dylan Young, a 6-3 junior transfer out of Feather River College, are fighting for snaps at the “Z” receiver spot.
Battling to take over Donahue’s “X” receiver duties are Blakelyn Birks (5-10, 200), a University of Hawaii transfer, and Donald Drisdom (5-10, 180) out of West Los Angeles Community College.
A few darkhorses may also work their way onto the field this season, including the smallest player on the team. Kermit Knight (5-6, 160), a redshirt freshman from Stockton, Calif., is having a great camp, and true freshman Austin Schaffer (6-0, 200), a converted quarterback now vying for time in the slot, has shown why he was the Gatorade prep player of the year for the state of Idaho.
“All the skill guys are going to be new,” Howard said, “but there’s good talent and good competition and right now I’m really pleased with them.”
After roles are ironed out, the Raiders’ receivers will look to sync up with Dodge, whose coming off one of the most productive seasons in NAIA history. Howard says that will be a work in progress.
“Well, it’s developing,” he said. “You don’t just graduate those guys and it hits off again, but the chemistry right now with Clay Sierra and Matt Retzlaff is wonderful.
“The new guys, they’re fitting in, they’re learning. In fall camp, you just add about six plays a day and your mind’s racing, your body’s sore and tired, you’re learning all this stuff and your confidence isn’t there yet because you’re still trying to say, ‘OK, what is the play?’ But pretty soon, you’re going to know the play then execute the play.”
Joe Zavala is sports editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-776-4469, or email email@example.com