RNeSU boards impose contracts

BRANDON — In a rare move and after a marathon executive session that saw midnight come and go, the boards of the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union and the Brandon School District voted in the early hours of June 18 to impose a contract with paraprofessionals and bus drivers after negotiations failed.
The boards and the National Education Association-Vermont Paraprofessional and Bus Unit have been negotiating the contract for 18 months. The sticking point has been salary increase percentages and health care contributions.
According to a press release issued by RNeSU, the boards’ made the decision to impose a one-year contract because they wanted to ensure that paraeducators and bus drivers would receive a wage increase for the 2014-15 school year before the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. The contract being negotiated was a successor agreement to an agreement that expired on June 30, 2014.
The decision came with a motion at 12:15 a.m. on June 18 at a joint meeting that began earlier that evening.
“The boards see the need to compensate these valued employees appropriately and fairly,” RNeSU Board Chair Richard White stated in the release. “We are disappointed that negotiations could not bring about a settlement after months of trying and many offers being extended. We believe the imposed contract terms maintain the high salary and benefits levels these employees enjoy relative to their comparable peers in the region and continue to signal our respect for the services provided.”
The imposed one-year contract terms are as follows:
• Revise contract to reflect a 3 percent increase in wage rates.
The contract is retroactive to cover July 1, 2014, to June 30, 2015, and from year to year thereafter unless written notice of desire to terminate or modify the contract is given by either party to the other.
• Employee health insurance contribution remained unchanged for FY 2015 at 3.5 percent of premium cost but will increase to 5 percent of the premium prospectively on June 30, 2015.
• Beginning June 30, 2015, the boards will implement a new four-tier (instead of the current three-tier) wage schedule for paraprofessional employees. This is an item requested by the employees.
When asked to comment, Brandon School Board Chair Lisa Kenyon left the door open to further negotiations, but said the boards did what they felt they needed to do.
“For almost two years, our negotiation committee has been trying to offer an appropriate wage increase,” Kenyon said in an emailed statement. “After our (joint) meeting, both Neshobe and RNeSU boards went into executive session to negotiate for three hours. It came clear in the early morning that the only way to provide an appropriate wage increase was to impose a contract for the year 2014-15. We appreciate all the hard work that the bus drivers and paraeducators provide to all our students. And we look forward to coming together soon and talking/negotiating for the next year.”
And for those wondering why the Brandon School Board specifically is engaged in these negotiations, the answer goes back almost 20 years to the late 1990s, when the union asked to be in on the labor negotiations for their Brandon paraeducators. According to Superintendent Jeanne Collins, the bus drivers joined them in the mid 2000s.
To be clear, these negotiations involve all RNeSU bus drivers, all RNeSU special education paraeducators, and all Brandon School District paraeducators.
In their last public offering, the union asked for a 3.81 percent wage increase for paraprofessionals and a 3.8 percent increase for bus drivers in the first year of the agreement covering the 2014-15 school year. The union also asked for a 3.78 percent salary bump for paras and a 3.79 percent wage increase for bus drivers in the second contract year, 2015-16.
The last offer from the RNeSU and Brandon boards was a 3.5 percent increase for all employees in the first year, and a 3 percent wage increase in the second contract year. That offer was based on a requirement that employees accept a 5 percent contribution to the health insurance.
Despite the contract imposition, the boards have vowed to continue negotiations in the meantime.
“The provisions of the imposed contract will remain in effect until the boards and employees’ association negotiate a successor agreement,” the boards stated in the press release. “The boards hope to commence these negotiations as soon as possible.”
The press release also noted that as of June 18 “neither the boards nor the association that represents the employees have found the fact finder’s recommendations on wages and employee health insurance contributions to be acceptable.”

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