Salem teachers win back pay in complaint over full-time work calculations during pandemic

Dozens of Salem teachers will receive back pay for their work over the past two years after the Salem-Keizer Education Association prevailed in an unfair labor practice complaint.

Administrative law judge Jennifer Kaufman ruled in May that the Salem-Keizer School District failed to bargain in good faith with the teacher union and failed to provide data in a timely fashion after changing the way teachers’ full-time equivalent work hours were calculated in the fall of 2020.

The ruling came more than a year after the union filed a complaint with Oregon’s Employment Relations Board, the state entity tasked with resolving disputes between public employee unions and employers.

At issue was a change in the way middle and high school teachers were paid for part-time work, or for “selling” their preparation periods back to the district to teach an additional class.

Prior to the pandemic, a teacher’s full-time status was calculated based on how many classes they taught. If a full-time teacher taught five periods per day, a teacher working four classes was counted as 80% of a full-time employee, and paid accordingly, according to Kaufman’s ruling.

When the district moved to online school in the fall of 2020, the district’s staffing director instead created a new formula based on total minutes worked – rather than the number of classes taught – and did not share the new metrics with the union, the ruling said. The district said the change was intended to account for the fact that online classes included fewer periods per day which were longer, and teacher work days included more unstructured time for preparation and reaching out to students.

That resulted in, for example, a half-time high school teacher teaching two classes per day, while full-time teachers taught three, the ruling said.

The union objected to the change, saying it unfairly resulted in lower pay for part-time teachers and did not account for the fact that each additional class taught resulted in increased workload because teachers have to prepare lessons, grade assignments and spend time tracking down students and answering questions for each period they work.

Kaufman’s order directed the district to return to its prior method of calculating full-time status for teachers, notify employees the district committed an unfair labor practice, and pay back pay to any employees affected, plus 9% annual interest.

Peggy Stock, the district’s director of employee relations, notified teachers and other licensed educators of the ruling June 3.

“The district is complying with the judge’s order. At this time, we do not have the final data on how many employees are impacted and the cost with adjusting pay,” said Sylvia McDaniel, the district’s director of communications and community relations, in an email.

Tyler Scialo-Lakeberg, the union president, welcomed the ruling.

“It was a win on all counts for SKEA,” she said.

Scialo-Lakeberg said the union is still determining how many employees were affected, but expects dozens of middle and high school teachers will be eligible for back pay. She estimated the amount owed would be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but did not have a precise figure.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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Rachel Alexander is Salem Reporter’s managing editor. She joined Salem Reporter when it was founded in 2018 and covers city news, education, nonprofits and a little bit of everything else. She’s been a journalist in Oregon and Washington for a decade. Outside of work, she’s a skater and board member with Salem’s Cherry City Roller Derby and can often be found with her nose buried in a book.