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Teachers' Unions Ratify $25 Million Contract

Aug. 29, 2008 — It only took a few hours Friday for members of the territory's two teachers' unions to ratify a nearly $25 million contract offered a few days ago by the government.
The one bone of contention, union officials said, was with a section dealing with raises for local paraprofessionals and support staff.
The contract is retroactive to Sept. 1, 2007, and will run until Aug. 31, 2011, according to Tyrone Molyneaux, president of the American Federation of Teachers on St. Croix. Proposed salary increases average out to about $15,000 per person over the term of the contract, he said when contacted Friday evening.
But a section laying out a one-time $1,700 salary bonus for paraprofessionals and support staff was not ratified, Molyneaux said.
"The way it works is that each district votes on the various sections of the contract," he explained. "We combine the votes to get our results. When it came to this particular section, the support staff voted no and there was a tie with the paraprofessionals. So we will be having another meeting sometime next week, and the members will either vote this section up or down."
Ratification meeting were held simultaneously on Friday in both districts, beginning around 4:30 p.m. and stretching into the early evening. The ratification of the contract — which applies only to the union's professional staff — closed out about a year of intense negotiations between the government and AFT.
The back and forth between the two parties reached a head earlier this month after the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB) declared an impasse in the negotiation process and ordered that the matter go into mediation. Two months before, union members rejected the government's first contract proposal, which was put together after more than a year of negotiations.
Going into a third day of mediation earlier this week, word came that a tentative agreement had been reached between the government and the unions.
"It was a very lengthy process — it was too long," Molyneaux said Friday. "I think that was due in most part to the Department of Education not being ready and prepared. They had multiple people sitting in the commissioner's seat throughout the process — several of those individuals were acting commissioners, so they had to keep catching up."
AFT will be hammering out some dates with the government early next week to begin negotiating the contract for paraprofessionals and support staff, Molyneaux added.
"But I don't think that process will be quite as long — at least I hope not," he joked.
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