July 23, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY —Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center (PHCC) teachers have agreed to a one-year contract that will retroactively cover the recently concluded 2006-2007 school year, and they are now setting their sights on negotiating a longer-term pact.
Peter Ryersbach, chief negotiator for the Middlebury Union High School Teachers’ Association (MUHSTA), said the recently ratified contract grants PHCC teachers a 4-percent wage increase for the past school year and maintains the status quo on health care benefits. Teachers now pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums, with PHCC picking up the balance.
Teachers recently received, in a lump sum, their retroactive pay stemming from the agreement, according to PHCC board Chairwoman April Jin.
It was the teachers who approached the PHCC board about forging the one-year pact.
“They proposed this so they would not have to think about negotiating over the summer and so they could start (work on a new deal) in September,” Ryersbach said. “It was also so teachers didn’t get discouraged, getting into the second year of an unresolved contract.”
The two sides have been negotiating on and off for the past two years on a new deal to replace the former contract, which expired at the end of the 2005-2006 academic year.
Negotiations came to a halt for several weeks earlier this year, while the Vermont Labor Relations Board reviewed an unfair labor practice charge that MUHSTA had leveled against the PHCC board. The complaint concerned a decision by the PHCC board to cut off talks pending assurances from MUHSTA that only PHCC teachers covered under the agreement would ratify the pact.
MUHSTA also represents teachers at the UD-3 schools: Middlebury Union High School and Middlebury Union Middle School.
The Labor Relations Board earlier this spring ruled in favor of MUHSTA, and ruled the PHCC board should come back to the negotiating table.
Union officials said on Thursday that all MUHSTA members were eligible to vote on the one-year deal that was ratified.
Jin said the PHCC board unanimously approved the one-year deal.
“We felt we should show we are negotiating in good faith,” Jin said.
While the contract is good news, neither side will spend a lot of time celebrating. Teachers are still without a new contract, a document Ryersbach hopes can be hammered out within the first half of the upcoming school year.
“We hope to have as much respect and a good working relationship with the PHCC board as we did with the UD-3 board,” Ryersbach said. The UD-3 board and teachers recently ratified a new three-year contract.
Jin reiterated her belief that the PHCC teachers’ contract should not be viewed through the same negotiating prism as the UD-3 pact. She noted, for example, that the PHCC is more of a “school of choice” than MUHS and MUMS, which have a more stable population base. She added that having a bachelor’s degree is not a baseline requirement for teachers at the PHCC, though starting teachers without such a degree are paid commensurately with their starting colleagues who do. Prospective teachers at the UD-3 schools must have a bachelor’s degree, according to Jin.
“I don’t think one contract fits everyone,” Jin said. “We want to be fair to the employees, but at the same time, we realize we are setting some precedent here.
“We feel like we’re treading new ground in the state.”?