Movement?? Senate Amendment Attempts To Close Budget Hole And Save Services And Jobs

Read the amendment and also VSEA Director Jes Kraus’ letter to the membership, explaining the amendment.

Dear VSEA Members,

Today, the Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved a budget amendment that will reduce the amount of cost savings from bargaining unit employees to $11 million general fund dollars.  The amendment achieves additional savings in private contracts, exempt employees, classified confidential employees, and temporary employees.  The amendment also prohibits bonuses and salary increases for non-bargaining unit employees, and prohibits further layoffs by the administration unless Secretary Lunderville first submits a plan to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees by May 1, 2009—and the plan is enacted by the general assembly.  Lastly, the amendment prohibits the administration from closing or significantly reducing operations at any correctional facility unless the committee on corrections oversight and the joint fiscal committee approve of doing so.
This is an important step in the right direction.  Even if we never reach an agreement with the administration, the Senate’s proposal saves approximately 100 bargaining unit positions.  It also freezes layoffs until they are approved by the general assembly, eliminates “bonuses” for non-bargaining unit employees, prohibits the administration from unilaterally closing a prison, etc.  In short, it greatly helps to level the playing field.
The amendment, which will be posted on the VSEA website shortly, makes recommendation of how to achieve additional cost savings to avoid layoffs and cuts to public services altogether.  Please keep in mind that these are only recommendations – the legislature cannot dictate negotiated contract terms.  While I’m certain that your bargaining teams and unit chairs will evaluate the Senate’s recommendations, this does not mean that they have agreed to, or will agree to, these specific concessions.  If there is any further discussion with the administration, any final proposal would have to be ratified by the entire membership.  This means that you will get to vote on any proposed change to your contract.
The budget amendment will be introduced on the floor some time this afternoon, when the full senate will vote on it.  Please call Senators from the appropriations committee to thank them for their support.  A list of the members of this committee – along with their contact information – is below.  You can simply thank them for supporting the Racine/Shumlin/Illuzzi amendment.  Please also call your Senators and urge them to vote for this important amendment.  You can find a link with your Senator’s contact information on the VSEA website. 
Tomorrow, the House and Senate will likely pass a resolution praising VSEA for its efforts to negotiate a fair resolution with the administration, and taking the administration to task for failing to be reasonable in its negotiations with us.  The resolution will also encourage VSEA and the administration to engage in mediation next week to attempt to come to a fair agreement that would further reduce the loss of jobs and public services.  I will be discussing this recommendation with your unit chairs in the very near future.  We will post further information as it becomes available.
I want to thank the hundreds of members who called and left messages at the State House yesterday.  Many diligent members and activists also came up to the State House this morning to talk with their senators.  Your efforts unquestionably made a huge difference in bringing about the creation of this important amendment.  VSEA staff and activists will keep working to ensure that the budget is not balanced on the backs of VSEA members.  In the coming weeks, we will undoubtedly be calling on you again to make phone calls to your Senators and Representatives, as the budget moves to conference committee.  I cannot tell you how important it is for you to demonstrate a show of support like the blitz of phone calls that were made yesterday.  Please continue to follow through on contacting your legislators whenever we ask, and we will achieve the best possible outcome.   You can start by thanking the senators on the appropriations committee tonight, and contacting your senators to encourage them to support the Racine/Shumlin/Illuzzi amendment. 
In Solidarity,
Jes Kraus
VSEA Director
Senate Appropriations Committee
Susan Bartlett, Chair                                                          (802) 888-5591
Lamoille District                                         
Jane Kitchel, Vice Chair                                                          (802) 684-3482
Caledonia District
Vincent Illuzzi                                                                            (802) 334-2807
Essex-Orleans District
Hinda Miller                                                                               Home: (802) 862-7008
Chittenden District                                                      Work: (802) 660-4880
Richard Sears                                                                             (802) 442-9139
Bennington District
Peter Shumlin                                                                   (802) 828-3806
Windham District
Diane Snelling, Clerk                                                          (802) 482-4382
Chittenden District