Negotiators for both sides worked hard to reach deal for a one-year pact that will keep schools open
BURLINGTON – Burlington’s teachers will not go on strike tomorrow as they and the city’s school board reached a tentative agreement for a one-year contract.
“I am pleased to tell Burlington students, parents and residents that school will begin on time tomorrow morning,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association, the teachers’ union. “I know this has been a hard road, but we’re pleased to have reached an agreement with the school board.”
Details of the agreement won’t be released until it is ratified by both parties.
“This is terrific news for Burlington’s students,” Brock said. “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.”
In unfair labor practice charge filed with Vermont Labor Board, teachers assert school board imposed working conditions before legally allowed
MONTPELIER – The Burlington School Board committed six unfair labor practices – including multiple attempts to thwart a settlement – in its rush to walk away from contract talks with the city’s teachers, according to an unfair labor practice charge filed today with the Vermont Labor Relations Board.
The charge, filed by the Burlington Education Association, said that what started out as an attempt to reach a quick, one-year deal for the current school year turned into protracted roadblocks to a settlement that ultimately ended when the board walked away from the table and imposed an employment policy before it was legally allowed to do so.
“From the start, more than 16 months ago, all we wanted was to have a one-year contract in place this year,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the union’s president. “We knew, and the board certainly knew, that the changes in health insurance looming next year means that we have some complicated bargaining ahead of us. It’s too bad the board chose division, delay, and roadblocks this year.”
The filing comes a day after hundreds of the union’s members voted overwhelmingly to strike Oct. 20 if a tentative contract agreement for the current year isn’t reached. The parties are scheduled to meet with a mediator on Oct. 19. The teachers, for their part, are hoping to settle. “I certainly hope the board has the same goal.”
In its filing, the union said the board:
“It’s too bad that the board has chosen the course it has, because instead of starting this school year in chaos and disruption, we could have had a contract in place,” Brock said. “It seems that the more than $50,000 the board’s leadership has spent on an anti-union consultant, a former superintendent and a bargaining adviser has brought them to this place.”
Brock said that she knows members of the board share the teachers’ dedication to the city’s students and she implores them to come to the table Wednesday ready to bargain a mutually acceptable settlement.
Union’s last resort comes after board chose imposition over negotiation
BURLINGTON – Members of the Burlington Education Association today voted to authorize a strike beginning Oct. 20 if a negotiated contract agreement isn’t reached.
“This afternoon, we voted to authorize our negotiating team to call a strike no earlier than Oct. 20 if a negotiated settlement is not reached during our upcoming bargaining session called by the mediator,” said Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the Burlington Education Association president. “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.”
Brock noted 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.”
Mediator Ira Lobel called both the union and the board to a negotiating session that is to begin Oct. 19.
“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.
The vote to strike comes after the school board became only the 21st in Vermont history to walk away from talks and impose employment policies for the current school year. As it happens, this board also imposed employment policies faster than any of its counterparts in Vermont history.
“As the men and women who work in our city’s schools every day, our first and primary priority is teaching Burlington’s children. That’s why we sought a swift, 1-year renewal of our contract more than a year ago,” Brock said. “We thought the board shared our desire to avoid a disruption in our school year. We hope that they will do what it takes to prevent it from happening.”
My name is Fran Brock, and I teach history at Burlington High School. I am also the president of the Burlington Education Association, the union that 400 of my colleagues and I proudly belong to.
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 session with a mediator.
We did not ever think it would come to this, but the leadership of this 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.
Teachers take this action with thoughtfulness and sadness. We are acutely aware that a strike is disruptive for students, families, and for the community. But we can no longer stand by and allow the School Board to continue to demean us, to disrespect us, to devalue us and the teaching profession.
Last week, School Board Commissioner Miriam Stoll rightly said “this is a critical time for the district and we need to pull together to move forward. This fact is indisputable.”
Indeed, it is indisputable. Unfortunately, she and her fellow board members have brought us where we are today. And while we firmly believe we can reach a contract settlement for the balance of the school year, the board’s leadership continues to flex political muscle rather than seek respectful common ground.
As the men and women who work in our city’s schools every day, our first and primary priority is teaching Burlington’s children. That’s why we sought a swift, 1-year renewal of our contract more than a year ago. We also knew – as surely did the board – that the coming year will bring significant changes to the health insurance landscape, and having a 1-year contract in place would give us time to focus on the complex negotiations ahead.
Sadly, under the direction of Board Chairman Mark Porter, the board did not share our objective. Indeed, in a virtually unprecedented letter to fellow Chittenden County superintendents and board leaders, Porter asked for advice on how to beat back the union. In the letter, he claimed that Burlington’s teachers were not conciliatory, “aren’t open to discussion” and “refuse to counter.” It is clear in that letter that he never intended to sit down with our negotiating team – all of them teachers, all of them willing to compromise – and reach a quick consensus on a contract.
More disturbing is that instead of talking directly to us, he and the board have hired outside consultants – even when they claim a shortage of money. In addition to their lawyer, the board kept – or keeps, we can’t tell from the information they’ve released to the public – an anti-union consultant on retainer, to the tune of almost $22,500. They have paid at least one former superintendent $20,000 to advise in these negotiations. They have also paid an economist almost $3,600.
The board has consistently refused to release to us or to the public a complete budget; the “line-item” budget produced last week fails to show how expenses align with revenue, how they compare to budgeted amounts, or other details common in most other school district budgets.
For teachers, the lack of transparency; the objective to go after the union early in the process; and the refusal to accept the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder is troubling. Such actions and behaviors only lead to frustration and distrust within the school district and within the community.
Our original intention of having a swift round of negotiations to reach an easy settlement that would have carried most of the now-expired contract forward one year is clearly unattainable. We never left the table. We offered to take what was recommended by the fact-finder.
When the board offered to talk again, we were hopeful. But the board’s “offer” to return to bargaining is, sadly, veneer. The “offer” essentially asks us to talk about everything except salary and benefits. In other words, it isn’t an offer to negotiate at all, but another ploy to make the press and public think they really want to return to the table. They are not.
We still want a contract. We still are willing to return to the table for a true negotiation, without demeaning preconditions. There still is time for members of the board to insist its leadership change course and settle.
I know all of us care about our city, our schools, and our students. We invite the board to put an end to the charade and talk to us seriously and respectfully until we have a contract.
BURLINGTON – Fran Brock, a Burlington High School history teacher who serves as the president of the Burlington Education Association, issued the following statement responding to the school board’s invitation to resume contract talks:
“We are pleased that the board indicated a willingness to resume talks with Burlington’s teachers. But it is quite unfortunate that they put conditions on those talks. A negotiation with conditions is not a true negotiation. To be clear, when the board unilaterally decided to end talks and impose an employment policy on the city’s teachers, they did so knowing that we were willing to accept the recommendations of a neutral fact-finder.
“If the board’s invitation to resume talks is sincere – and that means removing the imposition and entering into meaningful talks with us – we welcome the chance to sit down. But if the board’s chairman puts preconditions on the invitation to talk, we can only conclude that this is more about optics and bargaining by press release than on truly reaching a negotiated contract settlement.”
This afternoon, 300 members of the BEA and community allies participated in an informational picket. Participants continued to ask the Burlington Board of School Commissioners to come back to the table and bargain with our community’s teachers. Participants called for a fair contract for all of the district’s teachers and for a transparent budget that details the Board’s allocation of money.
We have more informational pickets coming up over the next few days. One will be Wednesday morning, September 28th, from 7:15-7:45 am at each of our schools and another will be in front of the Edmunds campus on Main Street from 4:00-4:30 on Thursday, September 29th.
VPR commentator Rich Nadworny discusses the imposition crisis in Burlington.
This is a press release from the Burlington Vermont Progressive Steering Committee.
BURLINGTON – A statement from the Burlington Progressive Steering Committee was released today, recognizing the difficult work of the school board but ultimately disagreeing with their decision to impose a contract on Burlington School District Teachers.
“We understand that BSD school board, made up of citizen volunteers, has a hard and often thankless job doing what they believe is best for the city, particularly due to the loss of federal, state, and local funds. However, the Burlington Progressive Party supports the rights of workers to unionize and bargain collectively. We support Burlington teachers and the BEA’s right to have a voice in the decisions that impact their working conditions, whether those conditions regard salary or continuing education, so that teachers can serve as excellent models for students in terms of lifelong learning, curiosity, and critical thinking.
Public sector unions have been the bulwark against government austerity measures. We urge the school board to return to the bargaining table, and we support our teachers if they ultimately choose to strike. We will continue to fight for a more equitable tax system at the state level, while in the meantime rejecting austerity measures that pit families against workers. We support a fair contract for teachers, and a bargaining process that treats them respectfully and equitably. “