April 20, 2014

Collective bargaining agreement reached for education support staff

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4.5 percent salary increase in 2012-2013

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Attorney Scott Cameron signs a collective bargaining agreement on behalf of the Chittenden South Supervisory Union on May 10. (Observer photo by Luke Baynes)

At 10:36 p.m. on May 10, after more than five and a half hours of negotiations, representatives from the Chittenden South Education Association and board members of the Chittenden South Supervisory Union reached an accord on a collective bargaining agreement.

The agreement came after a five-month deadlock, during which time the two sides hired John Cochran—a Newton, Mass.-based arbitrator—as an impartial fact finder for the purpose of establishing a common bargaining ground.

Chittenden South Supervisory Union, or CSSU, is the state educational district that encompasses the towns of Williston, St. George, Hinesburg, Charlotte and Shelburne.

Chittenden South Education Association, or the “Association,” is the collective bargaining group for certain support staff—including paraprofessionals, office staff, cafeteria workers, custodians and bus drivers—in schools under CSSU’s purview.

While the two parties agreed with Cochran’s recommendations on board rights, seniority and severance issues, the two key sticking points in the negotiations revolved around wages and length of the work year.

At the last bargaining session prior to hiring Cochran as fact finder, the CSSU board proposed reducing the minimum work year for support staff from 183 to 178 days—a concept strongly opposed by the Association.

Despite the fact finder supporting the status quo of 183 work days, Scott Cameron, attorney for the CSSU board, was adamant regarding the board’s request at the May 10 meeting.

“We really don’t need all the paraprofessionals for 183 days. We wouldn’t need bus drivers for that long. So we want to go down to the minimum of 178,” Cameron said. “We simply don’t have the work, and we think it’s a management right and certainly we shouldn’t be forced to keep people on extra days if we don’t have something for them to do.”

The Association, represented by Vermont National Education Association UniServ Director David Boulanger, objected to the CSSU board’s claim that dollar-based increases of 40 cents in 2011-2012 and 45 cents in years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 would prevent salary gaps from increasing between the highest and lowest paid workers on the pay scale. Instead, the Association argued that such wage increases wouldn’t be commensurate with the projected cost of living index, and proposed percentage-based increases of 4 percent in 2011-2012, 4.25 percent in 2012-2013 and 4.5 percent in 2013-2014.

The wages and length of work year issues became intertwined as Cameron and Boulanger sparred in between private caucus sessions, like boxers trading jabs before returning to their respective corners.

In the end it was a split decision, with compromises reached on both counts.

For the length of the work year, it was agreed that bus drivers and kitchen staff will be assigned to work regular student days (specific to their school of employment) plus one additional day, while paraprofessionals will be assigned to work student days plus three additional days.

At Champlain Valley Union High School, which has 10 half days for teacher development within the scheduled school year, paraprofessionals will be assigned to work their regular work schedule on at least three of the student half days, and will be assigned to work at least 4.5 hours on the remaining student half days, unless their regular scheduled work day is shorter.

The wage increase dispute was resolved by abandoning the fact finder’s recommendation of a three-year collective bargaining agreement and settling on a four-year deal with a 3 percent salary increase for existing employees in 2011-2012; a 2 percent increase for new hires in 2011-2012; a 4.5 percent increase across the board in 2012-2013; a 3 percent increase in 2013-2014; and a 3 percent increase in 2014-2015.

The 2011-2012 wage increases are retroactive to July 1, 2011—the day after the previous collective bargaining agreement expired.

It was also agreed that portions of the collective bargaining agreement specific to bus drivers—the most recent category of support staff to be represented by the Association—will be negotiated at a future date.

Association member Fran Brennan offered a summation of the long and occasionally contentious bargaining process that produced a mutually satisfactory agreement.

“On behalf of all of us here, we thank you very much for working with us through this process,” Brennan said. “It’s definitely been a learning experience—and at that, a very long learning experience—but we appreciate your time here at the meetings and we look forward to another four wonderful years under this contract, and in another three we’ll see you again.”

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