Oct. 3, 2005 After months of negotiations and contract breakdowns the Virgin Islands Federation of Teachers has ratified a new contract which was overwhelmingly approved on Sunday by members in both districts.
Vernelle de Lagarde, St. Thomas/St. John district AFT president said Monday, the contract adds $8.5 million to union salaries.
The contract awards a one-time incentive of $2.5 million, giving members around $1,200 each in lieu of salary increases for the 2004-2005 contract year. The payment was a contentious item that led to the rejection of two previous attempts at ratifying a contract. Teachers rejected offers of $650 in early March and another offer of $714 a week later. At that time de Lagarde said teachers would have received that one-time payment and then gone back to receiving the same low salary. (See "Teachers Unions Reject Second Contract Offer, Plan Action").
In addition to the one-time lump sum, the contract increases the salary of the majority of teachers based on years of service. This section of the contract covers the period of 2005 2007. De Lagarde said the stipulation corrects "inequities that existed" in salaries and makes up for "lost years" when no increases were given. Some members will see an increase of $3,000 to $10,000 in their salaries, according to de Lagarde.
Teachers have been working without a contract since Aug. 31, 2004.
In August 2004, Tyrone Molyneaux, president of the St. Croix local teachers union, said the language in teachers' contract has not been modified, amended or changed since 1991. (See "Meeting Cancelled: Still No Teachers Contract") .
Federal mediator Carlos Tate assisted in the negotiations and mediations leading to the current contract.
New contract negotiations are scheduled to begin in September 2007.
The union is banking on a $60 million windfall recently announced by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull to fund the increases. In a September letter to Senate president Lorraine Berry, Turnbull designated a portion of the funds to pay union increases.
The local AFT represents approximately 2,100 teachers and paraprofessionals in the territory.
"Hopefully with the $60 million, the increases can be funded, de Lagarde said, adding that the fight is far from over.
"The struggle is not over," de Lagarde said. "We are going to continue to follow through until the increases become a reality."
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