Educators who work for the Vermont Achievement Center, members of UE Local 225, negotiated a new two-year contract this spring which includes improvements in benefits and working conditions and larger wage increases than workers have seen in over a decade. Local 225 members work for two programs at VAC: an early education and childcare program, and Sheldon Academy, which provides special education for older children.
Keeping the members informed was a priority for the negotiating committee — as Local 225 Recording Secretary Stephanie Abatiell said, "As a committee we met many times with our membership to make sure we were addressing any of their issues.”
Teachers for all age groups will now be guaranteed one hour of planning time per week — previously many workers would do their planning work off the clock. The contract also restricts permanent transfers to once per year, and only during the first two days of in-service at the beginning of the school year.
Early educators with more than 20 years of service will now receive an extra 24 hours of vacation time per year. Workers at the Sheldon Academy secured language providing that if the summer program, during which workers accrue vacation, is canceled, they will either be provided with other work or granted the vacation they would have accrued while working.
Sick time was increased from 56 to 72 hours annually, and personal leave from four to five days. Bereavement leave language was changed to allow workers to take leave for the loss of anyone they consider family, regardless of their specific biological or legal relationship. Short-term disability was added as a new benefit, and management’s contribution to retirement was increased from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent.
Wages increase 3.25 percent in the first year and 3.75 in the second. More than a decade ago, members of Local 225 took a significant wage cut when the nonprofit center was experiencing financial difficulties; these are the largest wage increases they have seen since then.
“Negotiating was a long process, but I feel we were able to have open conversations with management that offered a lot of clarity,” said Abatiell. “In the end we were able to get a contract that benefits our members with our fight for higher wage increases, job protection, increasing benefits and always bettering working conditions."
The Local 225 negotiating committee consisted of President Tennille Hayden, Vice President Heather O'Bara, Financial Secretary Laura Brown, and Recording Secretary Stephanie Abatiell. They were assisted by Field Organizer Abbie Curtis.