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RNeSU and union avert a strike

BRANDON — A tentative agreement has been reached between the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union and the paraeducators and bus drivers union, ending the threat of a planned strike on Nov. 16.
The agreement came Monday night after the Rutland Northeast Negotiations Committee and attorney Steve Stitzel met with the Rutland Northeast Paraeducators and Bus Drivers Association Negotiating Committee and their attorney, Sean Leach, at Otter Valley Union High School.
RNeSU Superintendent Jeanne Collins convened all of the RNeSU school boards on Nov. 4 and, after an executive session, directed the RNeSU Negotiating Committee to ask for a meeting with the paras/drivers’ association to hear the union’s proposal for an agreement.
In the end, both sides settled on paper to a two-year agreement. For the previous 2014-2015 contract year, the association agreed to the formerly imposed terms of a retroactive 3.5 percent wage increase and a 5 percent health insurance contribution. For the 2015-2016 contract year, both sides agreed to a 3 percent wage increase and no change in the health care contribution.
It was important to the association that the 2014-2015 contract terms no longer be imposed by the boards. The RNeSU and Brandon boards imposed those terms in June after negotiations failed after 18 months despite mediation and a fact finder’s report. The association was perturbed by the move, saying it showed a lack of respect in light of years of good labor relations. For their part, the boards said they had no choice and were legally entitled to impose the contract in order to keep the schools open.
The association voted to strike two weeks ago, and to file an unfair labor practices charge with the Vermont Labor Relations Board.
For its part, RNeSU said that in the event of a strike, the goal was to keep the schools open, which is legally possible as long as at least 51 percent of students attended. Parents and students would have had to provide their own transportation, and the most critical special needs students would have had substitute paraeducators.
Leach said Monday night that the association did not want a strike any more than the supervisory union did.
“We wanted to try and resolve this before there was a strike,” he said, “and this was a fair settlement on both sides tonight. On the whole, it is an acceptable agreement. This team would not bring an agreement to the members that they didn’t think would be ratified.”
Leach said the key was the second year wage increase, which will help balance the increase of health insurance contribution for workers.
The association’s original proposal on Monday night was for a three-year deal through 2016-2017, saying it would be in the best interest of all parties to have a break before negotiations would have to begin again. That proposal also included a 3.25 percent wage increase for the second and third year, with the health insurance contribution remaining unchanged at 5 percent. But the RNeSU Negotiating Committee rejected a third year outright, citing economic uncertainty over the past two years with the Act 46 consolidation deadline looming. RNeSU Negotiating Committee Chair Cady White said it also would have meant scheduling another meeting for discussion and approval with the RNeSU Board and the Brandon School Board before any deal could be made.
The association’s Negotiating Committee signed the tentative agreement Monday night and will take it to their members next week for ratification, they said.
For its part, the RNeSU Negotiating Committee will recommend the agreement to the RNeSU Executive Committee at a meeting on Nov. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at OVUHS.
In addition, a Nov. 16 strike by paras and bus drivers will not happen, and the unfair labor practices charge will not be filed by the association with the state labor board against RNeSU.
The association is a member of the Nation Education Association and was represented by NEA-Vermont attorney Sean Leach. The Association Negotiating Committee was composed of Chair Anita Caldwell, Mike Lee, Lisa Frasier, Lucy Lovell and Shelley Smith. After the tentative agreement was signed and the meeting adjourned, Caldwell said it was the best outcome for everyone involved.
“We are glad to move on and be done with the imposition and go back to the table,” she said. “We need to move on to the next thing. We need to move forward.”

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