Contract negotiations between the All-Island School Committee and the Martha’s Vineyard Education Association (MVEA) have moved to fact-finding with the state’s Department of Labor Relations, according to an update at Thursday’s school committee meeting. Fact-finding occurs when it is determined “that an impasse continues to exist and that further mediation is unlikely to resolve the matter,” according to the state website.
“We have, after four attempts at mediation, not been able to come to a resolution that was satisfactory to everyone,” Kate DeVane, a member of the Up-Island Regional School Committee, said.
The contract dispute has been ongoing for a while now. A rally in April and a school walk-in/walk-out in June occurred to support the MVEA’s position. The MVEA is pushing for higher salaries and better health insurance options, pointing to the cost of living on the Island. During the initial negotiations, the MVEA proposed a three-year contract in which teachers receive a 6 percent increase in their salary during the first year, and a 4 percent increase in years two and three. The committee counter offered a much lower 2 percent salary increase during the first year, and a 3 percent increase in years two and three. Willing to negotiate, the union proposed a 2 percent salary increase during the first year and a 3.25 percent increase during years two and three. The committee did not budge from their “best and final offer.”
Once the fact-finding starts, a different mediator from the department will be picked. DeVane said the committee sent a list with résumés of potential picks.
“I’m sure the union has done it, too, since the deadline was a while ago, about a week ago,” DeVane said. “Once we’re assigned a person, we go into the fact-finding stage of the negotiations, and at this point I think If anybody had anything to say, if the union had anything to say to us, they’d have to wait for the new mediator to be assigned. So we’re sort of in a holding pattern.”
“Is there any idea, in a best-case or worst-case scenario, when there might be [a] resolution?” school committee chair Skipper Manter asked. “It’s just unfortunate not to have a contract in place.”
“It’s extremely unfortunate,” DeVane replied. “I’m sure it’s frustrating for both sides.” She added that “everybody feels like we worked really hard on it. We were extremely disappointed at the last round of mediation not to get there.” According to DeVane, fact-finding is “new territory” for the committee, so it is uncertain how long it will take.
Gina Patti, Oak Bluffs teacher and MVEA president, entered the meeting late with some supporters to make a statement without “divulging anything” about the negotiation details.
“I’m here to represent us, and to just clarify a few things from my perspective,” Patti said. “I believe, from the Department of Labor [Relations], that we, both sides, can come back to the table at any time.”
Patti said the MVEA is “willing to come back to the table,” and has a proposal ready. “We thought it best to put it through our previous mediator. We don’t have a new person,” Patti said. “If that team is willing to come back to the table, we’re willing to do so.”
“Kate, I really don’t want you to respond. You can bring this up at your negotiations subcommittee. I don’t want to get into a debate here,” Manter said.
DeVane agreed, saying it is not something that can be addressed during the meeting.
“We can do that privately,” Patti said.
“I expect that I’ll be hearing from him, Gina,” DeVane said. “And as soon as I do, we’ll be happy to talk.”
According to the department’s website, the fact-finding and mediation process remains private. The fact-finder will make a report after hearing from both parties. However, the fact-finder also has the authority to mediate the dispute. If a resolution is not made within 10 days of the department’s receipt of the report, the details become public.