CSSU could impose contract
Jan. 27, 2011By Tim Simard Observer staff
Contract talks between the local teachers union and Chittenden South Supervisory Union’s negotiation team broke down again last week. Both sides called the Jan. 20 meeting frustrating and blamed each other for the inability to agree on a two-year contract.
In the aftermath, CSSU school boards indicated they may impose a one-year contract if no consensus is reached by the end of the month. The teachers union plans to meet with its members about how to proceed, which could include striking.
According to Scott Cameron, CSSU’s chief negotiator and a Montpelier lawyer, the teachers union representatives walked away from the discussion table over disputes regarding step increases and teacher contributions toward health care premiums, among other concerns.
“The teachers got upset and walked out,” Cameron said. “It could have ended better.”
The CSSU team is made up of school board members from supervisory union boards. Teachers from Charlotte, Hinesburg, Shelburne, Williston and Champlain Valley Union High School make up the Chittenden South Education Association, also known as the CSEA.
Lisa Bisbee, the CSEA’s lead negotiator, said her team became increasingly frustrated when school board negotiators appeared unwilling to listen to teacher concerns.
“I think the (CSSU) boards became entrenched in their own rhetoric,” said Bisbee, who is also a special educator at Williston Central School.
“It’s really fracturing the climate of our negotiations and it doesn’t feel like a respectful process now,” she said.
Contract talks began 15 months ago and continued after the teacher contracts expired at the end of June 2010. A fact finder’s report issued in September found room for both parties to compromise, but no concessions occurred in the three times negotiators met since fact finding.
On Friday, CSSU issued a press release detailing where the parties remain unable to compromise. The CSEA followed that up this week with a letter to school boards disputing some of the details released by CSSU.
CSSU negotiators offered to add 2 percent in salary raises through step increases, along with a one-time, $300 payment to teachers not eligible for step increases in the 2010-2011 school year. For the second contract year, CSSU offered a 3 percent increase, which should favor teachers previously ineligible for step increases.
According to the CSEA, raises in the first contract year would not cover the money appropriated for the new teachers’ retirement system. Instead of offering one-time payments and a 2 percent raise, the CSEA prefers a 3 percent salary increase for all educators.
CSSU stated in its press release that if it approves the 3 percent increase, then school boards would need to revisit school budgets and make appropriate cuts, which could include staff reductions.
In terms of contributions to health care premiums, CSSU wants teachers to increase their payments to 13 percent in the first year and 15 percent the second year. The CSEA favors 13 percent contributions in both years.
Cameron said the school boards offered the best contract they could and does not foresee how they can alter the proposal. While the CSSU negotiators hold “tremendous respect” for the teachers, Cameron said the boards must first consider the taxpayers who ultimately pay for school costs.
“There’s a lot of people hurting out there right now,” Cameron said. “This is not business as usual.”
The CSSU board has given the CSEA until Jan. 31 to accept the CSSU proposal or make a “reasonable counter offer,” Cameron said, noting that the CSSU school boards may decide to impose a one-year contract to complete the process. In doing so, both sides would need to restart the entire negotiation process.
Bisbee said the CSEA will look at a counter proposal, but sees the contract imposition akin to a threat. She said CSEA negotiators will meet this week to discuss the latest developments, adding that a strike will certainly be debated.
“Right now, that’s our nuclear option,” Bisbee said.