March 10, 2005 — Both the St. Thomas/St. John and St. Croix Federation of Teachers unions on Wednesday voted to reject the proposed three-year contract that was the result of six months of negotiations between the membership and the government. The contract, which does not contain any salary increases, asks educators to accept a one-time lump sum payment of approximately $650. Teachers have been without a contract since Aug. 31, 2004.
"The membership rejected the proposal," Tyrone Molyneaux, St. Croix local AFT president, said Wednesday night. He declined to disclose the vote tally, saying only that it is a combined total of members territory wide. Molyneaux said union officials had been negotiating the contract for six months but only met with the government 32 times. "The government did not intend to negotiate with us in good faith," Molyneaux said. He explained that often during negotiations meetings are set to run as much as 15 consecutive days in any given month. "It's been since August; we've only met a few times a month."
"This is basically an insult," Vernelle de Lagarde, St. Thomas/St. John local AFT president, said. The AFT officials said the membership will meet soon to plot a plan of action.
Molyneux said Thursday that half the time when union leaders met with Education officials, over the months since August, "They were not prepared, so it was a waste of time." He added that union members had to take time away from their classrooms to attend contract negotiation meetings. He said Noreen Michael, Education commissioner, has been tied up with federal officials and issues, adding that often when she sent people to represent her in negotiation meetings they were not people who had the power or knowledge to negotiate, so "It didn't add up to quality time."
Also, Molyneux said, "If they had met with us over the summer like we wanted to,", missing class time would not have been a factor.
The main issues in the proposed contract ask the parties to agree on the following:
– A one time monetary incentive of $1.5 million in lieu of salary increases for SY 2004-2005 to be divided equally among all AFT members as of March 9. This incentive will be given in a one-time payment before the end of this school year.
– A certification differential for all teachers certified by the VI Board of Education who receive a performance rating of satisfactory or better. The amount of the differential will be discussed in the SY 2006-2007 wage re-opener, but it will be effective beginning in SY 2006-2007.
– A differential for all paraprofessionals who meet the qualifications set out in the No Child Left behind Act of 2001 and receive a satisfactory or better performance rating. The amount of the differential will be discussed in the SY 2006-2007 wage re-opener effective beginning SY 2006-2007.
The $1.5 million incentive will be accommodated within the Department of Education's current appropriation. Molyneaux said the legislature needs to adhere to the law regarding the union arbitration fund. "They need to find funds to put in the arbitration fund so there is money for negotiated wages," Molyneaux said. "The government asks a lot of the teachers, we are underpaid and they are not serious."
The membership seemed to have little faith that the governor will reopen negotiations if the proposed contract is accepted. "The members think the governor has a reputation of not honoring wage re-opening," Molyneaux said.
Thursday's meetings were held in St. Thomas at the Palms Court Harbor View conference room. "We had a quorum, the membership has spoken," de Lagarde said, adding that the AFT will discuss an extension of the present contract until an agreement can be made.
On St. Croix, teachers and paraprofessionals met in the St. Croix Central High gymnasium. Both meetings began about 4 p.m. and ended by 5:30 p.m.
Other considerations in the agreement included guaranteed preparation periods, fringe benefits, and stipends for sports and academic coaches
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