This page was last updated on June 5, 2014
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A VSEA-sponsored survey conducted in 2013 found that an overwhelming number of Vermont state employees are reluctant to report or speak out against waste, fraud and corruption in state government because they fear management retaliation. Longtime Vocational Rehabilitation employee John Howe says he believes he is one of the latest victims of management retaliation for speaking out, and he’s fighting back.
Howe, an 18-year Voc Rehab Counselor in Burlington, just received an employee evaluation in September 2013 that found him to be an “excellent” employee. Management even commended his leadership role, writing “you and your team have achieved great outcomes.”
However, after he decided to testify to lawmakers in January 2014 (using his own annual leave to do so) in support of anti-privatization legislation drafted by VSEA, Howe says the atmosphere at work changed and he felt like he was being targeted.
Howe’s testimony at the State House focused on his concerns about his agency’s increasing use of a private contractor called the Vermont Association of Business, Industry and Rehabilitation (VABIR). Howe told lawmakers he is worried about VABIR’s growing presence within Voc Rehab and he’s very concerned about the low wages VABIR pays its employees and the high turnover within the VABIR workforce, which Howe testified can sometimes hurt his agency’s efforts to build long-term, meaningful relationships with clients.
Sadly, Howe’s feelings that he was being targeted were validated on February 19, 2014, when he was advised by his supervisor that he would be receiving supervisory feedback. When Howe asked why, he was told by management that they could not discuss the matter. After being forced to wait a grueling 16 days, Howe finally received his feedback on March 7, 2014, and he came away fearing that an investigation of some kind was being launched against him.
On March 28, 2014, his fears were unfortunately realized when Howe received a letter from management, informing him he was being placed on 30-day administrative leave for allowing a “non-state employee access to his State cellular phone.” That non-state employee was one of two VABIR employees under Howe’s direction at the time. His team also had one other Reach-Up Community Placement Volunteer.
In a letter dated March 28, 2014, VSEA vehemently complained to Department of Human Resources Commissioner Kate Duffy about Howe’s discipline and relocation, insisting Voc Rehab and DHR “cease and desist from this illegal behavior immediately.” Duffy responded to VSEA on April 2, writing that after “inquiring about the investigation,” she is “now completely comfortable that the investigation is warranted, and that my staff is properly investigating the allegations to discern the facts.”
Needless to say, VSEA strongly disagrees with Commissioner Duffy and we invite you to read through some of the attachments below, including Howe’s September 2013 employee evaluation, so you can better “discern” what’s really going on here. After reading and evaluating for yourself, please call the Governor’s office at 802-828-3333 and tell him to end retaliation against John Howe and protect State employee rights to provide testimony on their own time to State Legislative Committees.
- John Howe’s September 2013 Employee Evaluation
- Voc Rehab’s March 28 Letter To John Howe, Advising Him He Is Being Placed On Administrative Leave
- VSEA’s March 28 Letter To DHR Commissioner Kate Duffy
- VSEA 2013 Whistleblower Survey
VSEA would also note that John Howe is a longtime VSEA activist, serving on the Non-Management Unit’s Bargaining Team and Executive Committee, as a Steward and Council member and as a member of several standing VSEA rank-and-file Committees.
Update April 9, 2014:
Yesterday, John Howe received a series of letters from management, one of which of which begins:
“On Thursday, March 27, 2014, the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL) placed you on paid administrative leave. DAIL has since re-evaluated this decision and determined it is in the best interest of the Department to have you return to work, effective April 14, 2014. Therefore, on Monday, April 14, 2014, you shall return to work as a DAIL VR Counselor II.”
However, another letter reads:
“Senior investigator Joseph LaPorte has been assigned to investigate an allegation of misconduct.”
The fight continues!
Call the Governor’s Office today at 802-828-3333 and tell him to end retaliation against John Howe and protect State employee rights to provide testimony on their own time to State Legislative Committees.
Update April 14, 2014:
VSEA member and leader John Howe returned to work after serving just two weeks of management’s 30-day paid administrative leave punishment for allowing a VABIR co-worker to use his state cell phone. John was surrounded by friends and supporters as he made his way to his new workplace. Here’s video of his triumphant return to work. John’s fight continues as management still refuses to drop its frivolous investigation of him.
Update April 23, 2014:
Today, John Howe filed suit in Chittenden Superior Court against various agencies and departments, key State officials and several of the managers he says violated the rights afforded him under the “Whistleblower Protection Provisions” of the State Employee Labor Relations Act (3 V.S.A. §§ 971-978).
As supporters of this page know, John was recently placed on paid, 30-day administrative leave and is being investigated for allegedly allowing a non-state employee in his charge to use his State-issued cell phone. John’s lawsuit seeks “injunctive relief and other damages. He was returned to work early but the State’s investigation continues.
To read a copy of John’s lawsuit, please click here.
Update April 24, 2014:
VSEA leader John Howe at the State House to testify to the Senate’s Government Operations Committee about VSEA’s strong support for H. 863; the Whistleblower Protection bill.
After his testimony, the Committee voted 5-0 to move H. 863 out of Committee. This is a huge step in H. 863’s path to becoming law, and VSEA thanks John Howe and all other VSEA members who have been contacting their legislators to support H. 863.
Listen to John’s full testimony here: http://bit.ly/1l9h5jW
Update April 24, 2014:
John emerged tired but upbeat after sitting through a grueling four-hour Department of Human Resources investigation today. Here’s a video message from John, following the investigation:
May Day March and Rally 2014:
One of the highlights of the May Day march and rally was its focus on John Howe and his fight end retaliation against himself and all state employees.
In a strong demonstration of support, dozens of marchers and protestors carried “We Are All John Howe: Stop Retaliation Against Whistleblowers” placards with them throughout the day, and many more wore stickers with similar messages. Howe, who attended May Day to participate, said he was touched by the outpouring of support for his campaign for justice and he vowed to continue fighting to clear his name and reputation, reminding again that his fight is not just for him, but for all state employees who speak out. A flyer explaining Howe’s fight was also distributed throughout the crowd.
Here is a short video with some of the highlights from John’s May Day celebration:
Update May 7, 2014:
"We Are All John Howe" yard signs have arrived! Pick one up at VSEA headquarters (155 State Street in Montpelier)
Update June 5, 2014
Today, the Vermont State Employee Association (VSEA) learned the Department of Human Resources (DHR) has concluded its two-month-plus investigation of VSEA member and leader John Howe and found him not to be in violation of the charges he was being investigated for by DHR.