July 25, 2008 — Representatives of the government's Office of Collective Bargaining and the Department of Education met with American Federation of Teachers officials this week to discuss the vote by AFT chapters not to ratify a $20.8 million, 4-year pact.
According to a statement from Government House, AFT leadership passed along the concerns expressed by membership, including teachers, nurses, librarians, and school psychologists. At present, there is no contract in effect between the V.I. and the AFT.
Representing St. Croix at the meeting was Tyrone Molyneux, president of AFT Local 1826, and the St. Thomas/St. John AFT Local 1825 was represented by Alrid Lockhart.
V.I. Chief Labor Negotiator Jessica Gallivan urged the AFT leadership to consider voluntarily entering into mediation, in which the government and the union would mutually select a third-party neutral who would assist the parties in their efforts to reach a new agreement in advance of the upcoming school year.
Gallivan stressed that to do nothing was "simply not an option, there was a need for both sides to work together," according to Government House. Efforts to resolve the matter without outside assistance have, up until now, been unavailing.
But the AFT rejected the mediation proposal, insisting only that the parties return to the negotiating table, where Molyneux said he expects the government to increase its contract offer.
"Returning to the table at this juncture would be an apparent exercise in futility," Gallivan said, "since the AFT leadership has repeatedly altered its demands in a manner that would not suggest it is ready to enter into a workable agreement. … You cannot shift the bar each time concessions are made. This is not the way to achieve progress.
Calls to Molyneux for comment were not returned by press time.
With the new school year rapidly approaching, the government wants to assure a smooth start to the new school year, said Government House Communications Director Jean Greaux Jr.
"It is the Administration's view that the best way to begin the new school year would be to begin it with a new agreement with the teachers and professional staff in place," Giroux said. "To achieve this, however, requires a process which in turn requires the full and good faith participation of both sides."
The law states that the AFT must provide the government with 72 hours notice of a strike. But the government believes the AFT waived its right to strike when it signed onto ground rules at the beginning of negotiations. Those rules provide that the parties would submit to the impasse process in the event they were unable to agree on any issue or issues.
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