Salem-Keizer reaches tentative agreement with classified union

The Salem-Keizer School District and the union representing school support workers have reached a tentative contract agreement, ending months of negotiations.

The Association of Salem-Keizer Education Support Professionals announced the deal after 11 p.m. Thursday following two back-to-back days of mediation. The union represents about 2,800 school bus drivers, classroom assistants, custodians, office workers and other support workers in the district.

The contract still needs a vote by union members and approval from the school board to become final.

It would give employees a 7% raise this year, retroactive to July 1; a 3.75% raise next year and a 4% raise for the 2025-26 school year.

“This new contract tells education support professionals here in Salem-Keizer that our jobs are valuable and respected,” said union President Edie Buchanan in a statement. “With critical investments in wages and benefits, and improved safety language, today’s contract goes a long way to address the core issues our members have shared with us during this contract negotiation, and more. While there is still work to be done, every ASK ESP member should be proud of their unwavering commitment to the work they did to reach this monumental contract.”

Superintendent Andrea Castañeda said the contract would cost the district $73 million over three years. That comes as the district is facing substantial budget cuts and planning for a layoff this spring.

“We could not run schools without classified staff and this contract recognizes their importance to our schools, students and community,” Castañeda said in a statement. “In reaching this, we prove that it is possible to reach fair contracts even in dire economic conditions. We accomplished this by prioritizing our shared interests over our differences and working hard together until we achieved our goal.”

The agreement includes an increase in the district’s contribution toward health insurance premiums and a one-time, $5,000 retention bonus for any employee working at least half time. Employees working less than half time would receive $2,500.

That money would be paid out of the district’s Covid relief funding, which must be spent this year.

Bilingual employees would receive a 4% pay differential if they use their second language on the job.

The agreement also contains changes to health and safety procedures that are intended to address the district’s high rate of injuries from students assaulting employees. Union leaders described that as a key issue in bargaining.

Among the changes, school bus drivers and other workers who interact with students would have access to a student’s behavior plan and other documents outlining behavioral or medical issues.  

The district would also pay employees who miss work due to a student-caused injury for up to three days, until worker’s compensation kicks in.

Buchanan said the union will present the contract to members, answer questions and then schedule a ratification vote. She didn’t have a timeline for a vote, but said it would happen soon.

The agreement is separate from district negotiations with the teacher union, the Salem-Keizer Education Association. The teacher union declared an impasse last week, the first step toward a strike.

Both sides submitted final offers to a state mediator Thursday and are continuing to meet and negotiate.

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.