“The Shumlin Administration’s policy of ‘look the other way’ shouldn’t apply to the contract between the State and VSEA. Simply put, VSEA believes the Administration’s stance on this issue is misguided and contrary to the spirit of the State Employee Labor Relations Act. VSEA won’t get to decide the outcome of this matter and neither will the State. If the State’s interpretation of the emergency closure provision in the contract is correct then State officials have nothing to worry about should this case reach the Labor Board. To single out people for exercising their legal rights is an affront to fairness. From the highest level of government, people are being asked not to exercise their contractual rights – the same rights that union members are fighting to protect in Wisconsin, Ohio and across the country. Governor Shumlin defended these rights when he testified against Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Capital Hill. I’m calling on the Administration to end this war of words and let this matter be settled at the Labor Board where it belongs.”
Article published Oct 6, 2011
Shumlin asks union to drop labor dispute
By Thatcher Moats
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU
MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday called on state workers to drop the grievance they filed last week that demands double pay for work performed in the days and weeks after Tropical Storm Irene struck Vermont on Aug. 28.
In his first public comments on the labor dispute since the union filed the complaint, Shumlin leveled harsh criticism at the state employees named in the grievance.
“I just can’t express enough my dismay at the 90 state employees who are doing an extraordinary disservice to the rest of our hardworking employees by asking for double-time when they don’t deserve it,” Shumlin said at a press conference in Montpelier. “The notion that we would have hardworking transportation workers rebuilding our roads and bridges and then someone who is displaced from their office space in Waterbury would be getting paid double time while the transportation worker would be getting paid as they normally would – a lower wage – just seems extraordinarily unfair.”
Shumlin said he met with the president of the Vermont State Employees Association, John Reese, on Wednesday morning and urged the union to withdraw the grievance.
The union doesn’t plan to drop the complaint.
“That’s not something we can do,” Conor Casey, the VSEA’s legislative coordinator, said Wednesday.
Reese issued a statement after the press conference calling on Shumlin to “end this war of words” and let the state labor board settle the dispute.
“To single out people for exercising their legal rights is an affront to fairness,” Reese said. “From the highest level of government, people are being asked not to exercise their contractual rights – the same rights that union members are fighting to protect in Wisconsin, Ohio and across the country.”
The dispute between the administration and the VSEA comes as the two parties are starting negotiations for a new contract.
The VSEA contends the Shumlin administration is violating the terms of its existing contract by not awarding the double pay. The employees claim they deserve twice their regular wages, starting with their relocations after the storm until they received official notice of those relocations.
The Shumlin administration and the union disagree over the intent of the “emergency closure” clause in the contract.
Shumlin believes if the grievance ends up before the state labor relations board the union will be presenting a weak case.
“I think the contract – to any objective person – is designed for exactly what it’s used for, which is when there’s a blizzard or snowstorm and we require some people to come back to work and put themselves in harm’s way to get there,” said Shumlin.
Shumlin said double pay is warranted in such emergencies, and the administration paid double time to employees who worked on Aug. 29, the day after Irene struck.
But union officials said employees were in dangerous situations beyond Aug. 29.
Michael Casey, general counsel for the VSEA, said: “It’s important for people to understand a lot of these employees were working under less-than-ideal circumstances in a dangerous crisis.”