Members of amalgamated UE Local 221 who work for the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO) ratified a new three-year contract this past week. The contract covers workers who work for Head Start programs, community action offices, food shelves, and a variety of other programs across the four Vermont counties of Chittenden, Addison, Franklin and Grand Isle.
The contract raises wages by five, three and three percent, which brings the salaries for Head Start teachers to levels comparable to those of public school teachers. All workers will receive at least $1 per hour increase in the first year of the contract.
The contract also includes an additional “wellness day” floating holiday, to help promote mental health. Together with Juneteenth, which was added as a holiday mid-contract and is now codified in contract language, CVOEO workers will now enjoy 15 holidays per year.
Insurance coverage changes will make insurance available to more part-time workers, especially those who work for seasonal programs, and the agency agreed to cover any future costs for COVID-19 vaccines or boosters. Bereavement language was also changed to make it easier for workers to take bereavement leave for people of importance in their life to whom they may not be related in traditional ways.
Other improvements to contract language include changes to vacation language to make it easier for Head Start workers to actually use their vacation, protections against having to work at unreasonable hours, and language that makes it easier for individual worksites to close when inclement weather would make it unsafe for workers or the families that they serve to drive there.
Language was also cleaned up throughout the contract to make it easier for both UE members and management to understand, and all the pronouns in the contract were made gender-neutral.
“We are very excited about the direction that our new contract is taking us,” said bargaining committee member Em Hammond, who was recently elected president of Local 221. “With higher wages, clearer terminology, and inclusive language — our members unanimously voted to ratify the contract.
“We are taking time to relish in our success and then the work continues,” Hammond continued. “Discussion has already begun for our next contract! Currently, our biggest priority is differentiating the wage increase proposals so that members all have equitable pay — no matter what funding source their program uses.”
At a local meeting just prior to ratification, Local 221 members at CVOEO made plans to strengthen their local over the next three years with the aim of being able to negotiate greater equity between the relatively well-funded Head Start program and the other programs run by the agency in their next contract — plans to which higher-wage Head Start workers were fully committed. As a result, several members have stepped up to be new stewards.
“Full steam ahead!" concluded Hammond.
The Local 221 negotiating committee consisted of Hammond, Ray Anastas, and Alex Frantz. They were assisted by Field Organizer Abbie Curtis.