Burlington teachers, school board avert strike, reach tentative deal

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Burlington teachers, school board avert strike, reach tentative deal

Thu, 10/20/2016 - 7:35am -- tim

by Timothy McQuiston Vermont Business Magazine The Burlington Education Association, which is the union representing the city's teachers, and the Burlington School Board reached a tentative agreement Wednesday evening that will avert a strike that could have happened as early as Thursday. The agreement between negotiators and mediator Ira Lobel will still need to be ratified by the Board and the BEA. The BEA will meet Monday. School will go ahead as usual for the rest of this week. Terms of the agreement were not available, but the BEA said on its Website that it is for a one-year contract.

An email to union members Wednesday evening and issued by BEA vice president Andrew Styles said:

"Dear Members,

We know today has been a strange and challenging day.

The BEA and the board have reached a tentative agreement.

We will have a ratification meeting for BEA members on Monday, October 24. Details will follow.

Report to work as usual tomorrow!

Thank you,
Fran, Andrew, Bob and Beth"

The strike date, overwhelmingly approved last week, had set Thursday November 20 as the first possible work stoppage. 

“I am pleased to tell Burlington students, parents and residents that school will begin on time tomorrow morning. I know this has been a hard road, but we’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the school board,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the Burlington Education Association president. “This is terrific news for Burlington’s students. In the end, the board shares the same deep devotion to the city’s children as we do, and our teams were able to reach an agreement that will allow us all to devote ourselves to making our schools even better for all of our students.”

Brock issued the statement on the BEA Website late Wednesday.

The bitter negotiations also led earlier this week to a charge by the BEA of unfair labor practices by the Board. Presumably that charge before the Labor Relations Board will be dropped if both sides sign off on the deal. 

Mediator Lobel had called both the union and the board to a negotiating session scheduled for October 19.

“This afternoon, we voted to authorize our negotiating team to call a strike no earlier than October 20 if a negotiated settlement is not reached during our upcoming bargaining session called by the mediator,” Brock said last Thursday after the strike vote. “We did not ever think it would come to this, but the leadership of the school board has decided that division, political gamesmanship and walking away and imposing employment conditions was a better course than settling during more than a year of talks.”

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, who on Tuesday had urged both to find a resolution before the strike date, sent this response to vermontbiz on the tentative deal reached by the BEA and School Board:

“I am pleased that both parties worked hard to spare the community and the school system the serious damage that would have resulted from a failure to reach an agreement. I commend our outstanding teachers and committed volunteer School Board members, and look forward to our teachers and Board continuing their important work for our children and our community.”

Following its rejection of the imposed contract, BEA members and allies try to rally support from commuters during an informational picket on September 27 in front of the Staples plaza. BEA photos.

Once negotiations had broke down in September, the Board imposed terms, which included teachers paying 16 percent of their health care (up from the current 15 percent, where the union wanted it to stay) starting January 1, 2017. By the time negotiations broke down in mid-September, the board had increased its pay increase offer to 2.75 percent. The board initially had proposed a 1.8 percent salary increase, while the union asked for 5.29 percent. A fact finder suggested a 3.25 percent increase, which the union indicated it would accept, leaving the two sides only a half-point apart. Most of the other benefits remained the same under the imposed contract.

The union represents 400 educators, who serve the 3,600 students. At the strike authorization vote, 96 percent of the 330 teachers present voted to strike.

Brock said at the time that there is still a chance to avoid a strike. “Teachers take this action with thoughtfulness and sadness,” she said. “We are acutely aware that a strike is disruptive for students, families, and for the community. There is a chance to avoid this strike, and it will require the board’s negotiating team to approach our scheduled mediation with a singular desire: obtaining a negotiated contract settlement.”

“I pledge that members of our team, as they always have, are willing and ready to roll up their sleeves and stay at the table as long as meaningful bargaining takes place,” Brock said.

In response to the BEA strike threat, the Burlington School Board had said in a statement: "Like the Burlington community, the Board is very disappointed in the decision by the teachers to disrupt the educational process of Burlington's children by threatening to go on strike.

"It is unfortunate that teachers feel that an average salary increase of over $1,900 - almost three times the cost of living - is somehow unfair and disrespectful.

"Our final offer, after 14 months of negotiations, was reasonable and fair to the teachers and to taxpayers, and it allows the District to better meet the needs of our students.

"We hope the teachers will reevaluate their decision to threaten to strike and not disrupt the education of the City’s children. Given BEA President Fran Brock’s assurance to the community in today’s Free Press that the dispute is 'not about money,' the Board is cautiously optimistic about next week's mediation."

BEA union Sustainability Academy (Lawrence Barnes school) teachers at an informational picket September 27 in the Old North End.

RELATED STORY: Burlington teachers union files unfair labor practice charge with Vermont Labor Board