May 22, 2015
The gavel banged on May 16, officially ending what was a pretty unsettling 2015 legislative session for many state employees and the services they provide. Coming out of the session, VSEA member sentiments seem to range from “it could have been a lot worse” to “the State never should have put its employees in this position in the first place.” No matter how you look at it, the good fights that frontline VSEA members fought this session did produce results, did let Vermonters know that VSEA members are united in opposition to a cuts-heavy approach, did provide alternative and creative ways to generate new revenue and, finally, did help change the debate in Montpelier.
“I am so proud of VSEA members for standing our ground and not backing down to the State’s repeated demands to open our contracts to help solve a budget deficit that we didn’t create,” VSEA President Shelley Martin tells WIA. “Thanks to VSEA members’ solidarity, the State had no other choice than to work collaboratively with us to find non-contractual savings to prevent more cuts. And in the end, I’m happy to report that we ended up with far fewer position cuts than the State originally wanted, which is a pretty big accomplishment.” Martin is quick to add though that, unfortunately, some positions might still be eliminated under the new budget agreed to, but she says the State is also proposing in its budget to add 40 new positions and that anyone displaced could find new employment in these positions. “Obviously, no loss of positions is always the goal, but we know there might still be a few from this budget, and VSEA is prepared to help each and every worker who is impacted navigate the process to hopefully achieve a positive outcome.”
Martin, who herself spent many hours at the State House in the legislature’s final days, asked WIA to please send her and the entire VSEA legislative team’s heartfelt thanks to all the members who took time during the session to come to the State House to testify or lobby against more cuts and to all those who called, wrote and met face-to-face with lawmakers to make VSEA’s case—and the case for the Vermonters you serve.
Here are some of the session’s highlights, pertinent to VSEA members:
- VSEA was finally able to convince the State to work with the union to identify non-contractual savings (i.e. retirement incentive) to help keep some services whole and prevent hundreds of employees from being RIF’d. Unfortunately, the State and lawmakers left it up to agencies and departments to “eat the Pay Act” and find an additional $6.8 million in savings, which will be accomplished through cuts to private contracts, vacancy savings and fewer than 50 RIFs;
- VSEA members successfully lobbied lawmakers to reject the State’s last-minute and unwelcome proposal to cut an additional $3 million from state employees;
- Lawmakers adopted several VSEA members’ revenue generating proposals, including an alternative 3% minimum tax on Vermonters earning more than $150,000, the elimination of a deduction for state and local income taxes, and a cap on remaining deductions—except medical and charitable—at 2.5 times the standard deduction;
- With rumors of privatization and even closure, the future of the Vermont Veterans’ Home (VVH) was highly uncertain at the start of the 2015 session, but in the end, thanks to pressure from veterans, VVH workers and VVH residents, lawmakers agreed to fully fund the facility in 2016. A working group is also being established to begin identifying new revenue sources for the VVH;
- The future was also uncertain for the DOC’s Community High School of Vermont program at the beginning of the session, but consistent member lobbying and education efforts throughout the session resulted in lawmakers agreeing to cut just $250,000 from the program; far less than originally desired. The smaller cut, by the way, was a savings idea the CHSVT employees had introduced;
- The House and Senate both agreed to language to keep 911 Emergency Dispatch Centers in Derby and Rutland open through September 15, 2015. Lawmakers hope the extension will allow interested parties to explore ways to generate new funds by charging municipalities for State Police dispatching services. Lawmakers also directed the DPS Commissioner to provide them with a report that “clearly summarizes the specific budgetary impact of PSAP consolidation on the FY 2016 and 2017 budgets”;
- Language to close the Southeast State Correctional Facility in Windsor was removed from the budget bill entirely;
- A potential $600,000 budget cut to the already cash-strapped Judiciary was removed;
- The House and Senate passed a “grievance arbitration” legislation that VSEA has been championing for years now. The bill allows for collective bargaining agreements under SELRA to provide for binding arbitration as a final step in the grievance procedure. The State will sign the bill at a special ceremony on May 26;
- State employee pension plan receives full funding;
- Lawmakers scrapped an idea introduced early in the session to include language in a bill that included a criminal provision that—according to some interpretations—would have exposed DCF workers to criminal liability for “failure to protect a child.” The language was removed and replaced with a provision that simply enhances penalties for existing crimes; and
- A legislative committee is being created and charged with “identifying greater efficiencies in government.”
- State’s Retirement Division Releases One-Pager On Retirement Incentive
- State Signs S. 72, Granting VSEA Members The Right To Bargain For Binding Arbitration
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