Contract forced on some Otter Valley staff

BRANDON — The Otter Valley United Union School Board and the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Board unanimously voted to impose a contract on paraeducators and bus drivers at a joint meeting on June 13.
The move came a year after the
last contract agreement and 10 months of negotiations, fact finding and mediation. An impasse was declared in November.
Each side returned to the table on May 30 to try and settle on an agreement, but the board’s final offer was rejected by the paras and driver’s union members.
The imposed contract terms apply to the fiscal year of July 1, 2026 to June 30, 2017 and will remain in effect until the parties negotiate an agreement for the 201718 contract year.
The terms are the same as the offer that was rejected by members on May 30. There is a 1.6 percent increase in spending for wages, which will be retroactive to July 1, 2016. Employees will be paid this additional compensation before the end of the current fiscal year, which is June 30. Any change in health insurance provisions is delayed until June 30, 2017. Until then, the employee share of health insurance premium cost will remained unchanged at 5 percent until new provisions become effective on June 30.
The new health care terms will carry over into any future contract agreements.
And there is the rub, according to the paraeducators and bus drivers. The boards have proposed a fixed dollar amount of $8,000 per year toward the premium of any one of the four different policy types that the employee can choose for a single person, $15,600 for a two-person policy and $21,000 for family coverage.
Loretta Johnson, president of the Rutland Northeast Education Association’s Paraprofessionals and Bus Drivers Unit, said her members are disappointed that the boards decided to impose a contract.
“The members are, once again, very disappointed in our school boards’ decision to impose terms of employment,” she wrote in a statement. “They are the ones that walked away from negotiations. We still think that we could settle fair terms for both sides, if we could just get everyone to come back to the table with an open mind.”
This is not the first time a contract has been imposed by the OV and RNeSU Boards. In 2015, there was a unanimous vote to impose a contract on the paras and bus drivers. The ensuing bad blood brought the members to the verge of a strike before settling on terms at the eleventh hour in November 2015.
Jim Rademacher, chair of the RNeSU Negotiations Committee, said Monday that the boards felt the imposed terms were reasonable.
“The members were willing to go to a 6 percent health care contribution with a 3.5 percent pay increase,” he said. “Staying at 5 percent (through June 30) with 1.6 percent pay increase is the equivalent of a 2.6 percent salary increase.”
That may be true, but the fact that the terms have been imposed is not sitting well with the members.
Barstow paraeducator Rena McDonough wrote a letter read by the board at the June 13 joint meeting, saying that the bitterness created among members by the 2015 imposition is far from forgotten.
“When you last imposed working conditions, you saw what happened,” McDonough wrote. “I and my colleagues, who work hard all year with the communities’ children and who earn some of the lowest paychecks in the region, made it clear that your actions were wrong. In fact, we were on the verge of a strike when you and your team finally came back to the table. We can’t believe you are choosing this path again… We can’t believe that you are choosing divisiveness over cooperation, and that you are once again throwing our community into disarray… We are committed to reaching a settlement. We are committed to each other. We are committed to our schools and our students. It’s time for you to show you share these commitments. Declaring an imposition is not that way.”
OV paraeducator Rhoda Forrest also wrote a letter that was read at the June 13 joint board meeting. She said she is currently pursuing her Associate’s Degree and will then go on to earn her Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education in Elementary Education.
“This past year my husband had some health challenges and had to have surgery,” Forrest wrote. “If we did not have health insurance he would not be here today, that’s how necessary the insurance is to us. My Health Savings Account (HSA) will last through June or July and that will be it. We need an updated contract and we need our insurance.”
The Vermont Education Healthcare Initiative, the statewide organization that provides health insurance to Vermont’s teachers, will be changing the policies it offers starting Jan. 1, 2018. Two of the four polices that could be chosen are HSA and Health Retirement Account compatible. The one policy the board was basing its offer on is the CDHP Gold that is HSA and HRA compatible. The premium for that policy is less than what the fixed dollar amount is. The dollar amount difference would be put into an HSA that would partly cover out-of-pocket expenses. The policies would go into effect Jan. 1, 2018 under the current contract imposition.
Contract talks between the paras and drivers unit and the RNeSU Negotiations Committee are far from over, as new negotiations must resume to hammer out a contract for the 2017-18 fiscal year. According to a statement released last week from RNeSU, “The boards hope to commence these negotiations in the near future.”
But no letters of intent to negotiate the next contract have been sent by either side, and Rademacher said those talks will likely not take place until fall at the earliest. At stake are the ongoing negotiations with the teachers’ contract, and Rademacher said the sides are still far apart on salary and health care. The talks have gone to mediation and fact-finding, and will likely not be resolved before November. The paras and drivers may wait to see what happens with the teachers’ talks before deciding their next move.
Rademacher said, ultimately, he has to keep the taxpayers in mind when negotiating these contracts.
“I think the voter/taxpayers feel that health care is a right, and if it’s a right, everyone should be treated equally. It’s hard when they are seeing their coverage go down and their prices go up, and the members’ coverage is incrementally improved, so I think they see a health care disparity that they don’t like.”

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