Union: State Could Have Avoided Protest

This story originally appeared on TimesArgus.com

September 17, 2015

MONTPELIER — The state employees union is firing back at criticism from the Shumlin administration over the way it protested the handling of contract negotiations.

The Vermont State Employees’ Association took its grievance public Tuesday after negotiators for the state canceled a weekly meeting with the bargaining unit that represents workers with the Agency of Transportation. 

Agency workers showed up anyway, and the union publicized its view that the administration was “disrespecting” them after they took the day off to be there.

Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson had harsh words for the union, calling the whole thing a stunt it had orchestrated. Johnson also criticized VSEA Executive Director Steve Howard for not letting him know the AOT workers were coming to a meeting the administration had canceled the night before.

“I was really surprised and disappointed they took this approach,” Johnson said.

On Thursday, Howard fired back at the administration for canceling the meeting and for the remarks from Johnson.

“The administration had a week’s notice,” Howard said. “The deputy secretary of administration knew (the AOT workers) had taken time off. It’s not my job to brief the administration on this.”

Howard reiterated the position that the cancellation was disrespectful.

“These are not people who come to meetings every day,” Howard said. “These people took the day off from working on our roads and our bridges to be there, and to not meet with them was disrespectful.”

Negotiators for the state and the union have a standing Tuesday meeting to hammer out a new contract. However, according to Johnson, the administration had recently received a report outlining the costs associated with the terms of the new contract and wanted to give both sides time to read it.

For Howard, this argument holds no water.

“The administration has enormous resources and time to review financial data on every day except for Tuesday,” Howard said.

Usually, the state and bargaining units representing state workers establish ground rules to govern their negotiations, which include not taking their negotiations public. However, during this round of negotiations, the administration and the union could not agree on ground rules.

“This is not about ground rules. This is about common courtesy,” Howard said. “We’re planning to meet on Tuesday and will keep working toward a fair contract that reflects the economic circumstances faced by our workers as they face a massive understaffing of state government.”