RNESU reaches contract agreement: Negotiations with paras, drivers conclude over a year after impasse

BRANDON — Both sides approved the terms of a long-awaited contract for Rutland Northeast paraeducators and bus drivers last week.
The Rutland Northeast Paraprofessional and Bus Driver’s Association membership voted to approve the terms at a meeting on Dec. 4, and the Rutland Northeast and Otter Valley Unified Union School Boards approved the contract on Dec. 5.
The settlement came 13 months after an impasse was declared in negotiations for the 2016-17 contract, and 18 months since negotiations began. In October, the Paras/Drivers Association rejected the imposition and requested a return to the negotiation table.
RNeSU Negotiations Committee Chair Jim Rademacher rejected that request, saying the time to negotiate the 2016-17 contract was over, but that the committee would gladly negotiate the 2017/18 contract that had yet to be worked out.
The Paras/Drivers Association refused, and at a membership meeting on Nov. 30 voted to strike on Dec. 5 if the boards did not agree to return to the bargaining table and stay there until a settlement is reached.
On Saturday, Dec. 2, both sides met for six hours and reached a tentative settlement.
The new contract terms are as follows:
For last year, there is no change to health insurance with employees paying 5 percent of the premium and the boards providing 1.6 percent new money toward salaries. These are the same terms that were imposed. The imposed conditions instituted a fixed dollar health insurance premium payment concept to begin June 30, 2017; this language is removed. This language had however carried over into the current year.
For this year, the carry over language is removed and replaced with language indicating an average 6.25 percent health care premium for the first six months ending Dec. 31, 2017.
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 Healthcare Savings Account and Health Retirement Account (HRA) compatible. The policies would go into effect Jan. 1 under the current contract imposition.
In order to address those changes, beginning Jan. 1, employees will begin paying 13 percent of the premium. At the same time, if an employee chooses an health savings account (HSA) compatible health insurance plan, the boards will contribute to an employee HSA annually $2,100 for a single, $4,200 for a two-person and $4,000 for a family plan. For those few employees who are not HSA eligible, the boards will establish an health reimbursement arrangement requiring a single policyholder to pay the first $500 of out-of-pocket expenses with the boards paying the next $2,000. For a two-person or family plan the employee will pay the first $1,000 with the boards paying the next $4,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
The boards would provide 3.5 percent new money toward salaries.
For next year an employee will pay 17 percent of the health insurance premium. There will be no change to the HSA or HRA.
The Boards would provide 3.5 percent new money toward salaries.
The 1.6, 3.5, and 3.5 percent new money over the three-year term of this contract is a 2.87 percent average per year.
“The board team considered what is happening in the region regarding similar employee contracts,” said RNeSU Negotiations Chari Jim Rademacher. “We also considered our local voter/taxpayers along with the needs of our students and concerns of parents. The boards have great appreciation for the high quality work that our paraprofessionals and bus drivers provide. We believe that the terms and conditions of this agreement serves the needs of all those mentioned and demonstrates the respect that our paraprofessionals, bus drivers as well as our voter/taxpayers deserve.”

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