April 9, 2005 – The members of the local chapters of the American Federation of Teachers have chosen to seek mediation as the next step of action in their dealings with the V.I. government.
Early this week, the unions' 2,100 members were given surveys asking them to select the action they felt the group should take against the government, having rejected two proposed government offers. (See "Teachers Unions Reject Second Contract Offer, Plan Action").
About 1,400 teachers, paraprofessionals and administrative staff from both districts filled out the survey, and the majority of votes went to the option calling for mediation.
"I think it was a good showing," St. Thomas-St. John AFT President Vernelle de Lagarde said Friday of the number of members who participated in the survey.
De Lagarde said they chose to conduct the survey because they felt it would reach more members, and also because members would be able to vote in private without fear of what other members might think of their decisions. She said she was glad that members were interested in "working things out" with the government instead of striking.
St. Croix AFT President Tyrone Molyneaux said, "The chief negotiator was informed of the unions' decision." Molyneaux said the two chapters still had to get together to select a representative for the mediation process.
De Lagarde said because they have already made contact with Chief Negotiator Karen Andrews, the AFT would now file a complaint with the Public Employees Relations Board. The complaint will include the "outstanding issues" that have led to the impasse with the government.
The government and the AFT will then chose a mediator recommended by the PERB, whether local or federal. The mediator will have 14 days to offer a resolution.
"The process of going through mediation shouldn't take longer than two weeks," de Lagarde said, adding that in the event no resolution is made, the parties will then move to arbitration. In arbitration, a binding resolution must be made within 30 days after talks among representatives of the parties and a neutral party.
The AFT has been trying to work out a new contract with the local government since its previous contract expired Aug. 31. De Lagarde said last week the government has decided to extend the old contract until April 15.
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