VSEA President’s Memo To Membership About Dues Increase

"At this year’s Annual Meeting, those members who took the time to attend extensively discussed and voted to approve an increase to the dues structure of one dollar and fifty cents ($1.50) per pay period.  This will change the union member dues to $13.35.  The rate paid by agency fee/fair share employees(*1) will be $10.68 per pay period."

Date: October 2, 2009

 

Fellow members:

 

At this year’s Annual Meeting, those members who took the time to attend extensively discussed and voted to approve an increase to the dues structure of one dollar and fifty cents ($1.50) per pay period.  This will change the union member dues to $13.35.  The rate paid by agency fee/fair share employees(*1) will be $10.68 per pay period.  I would like to share some information relating to the increase that may be helpful to those of you who were unable to attend the meeting and hear the discussion.  As working Vermonters, we are under intense pressure from several directions to reduce our compensation, retirement and health  benefits.  We have seen our Governor go to the public with gross misrepresentations of our benefits and wages, in order to try to win a public relations war for which we have felt unprepared to wage a program of response.  Members at annual meeting decided we needed to be able to mount such a response, and took action.

 

The dues increase will be used for the following purposes:

 

  • Two new Limited Service Positions–a Political Organizer and a Research Assistant These positions will have partial benefits and they will be funded for two years.  The Political Organizer would focus on aggressive organization of the membership around legislative issues.  The Research Assistant would be used to assist all bargaining teams during bargaining, and doing policy and legislative research during off bargaining times.
  • External Communications and Public Relations – This line is intended to give the Board of Trustees money to increase our public relations and communications abilities in times of particular sensitivity.  This could include TV or newspaper ad production and buys. We need to be able to get a message out to both our membership and the public about the state of services we provide.

It is important to note that VSEA is a non-profit organization, established in 1944, with its governance, oversi ght, policies and priorities determined by its members.  You have ‘grown’ the organization — in terms of membership, influence, and effectiveness – substantially over the years.  VSEA membership now totals 6,000 employees in eight bargaining units(*2).  VSEA has outstanding credibility with Vermont’s legislature and its leaders, and is generally considered the most effective employee organization in the statehouse. VSEA has successfully negotiated contracts that have provided wage and step increases, and protected important benefits, every year since the inception of public sector bargaining in 1969.  VSEA has provided its members with professional assistance and representation in contract enforcement, workplace protection, job security, membership education and training, and benefits such as educational scholarships and discount ‘advantage’ programs. There are over 420 members who serve as elected or appointed union activists – donating their time and energies to improve the working lives of VSEA members.  It’s clearly a cooperative effort.

 

To understand the increase to the budget, it is important to understand some budget “basics”, and they are as follows:

 

            1. VSEA is a non-prof it, 501 (c)(5). Any money in reserve must have a dedicated purpose specifically voted on by the membership; for example, reserve funds exist in areas such as equipment replacement, building repair and maintenance, conflict counsel, member benevolent support and scholarship.

 

            2. VSEA builds its budget with some ‘give and take’ in the baseline of members each year, specifically to buffer against budget shortfalls that may occur if the State engages in any ‘downsizing’ effort such as the current rescission plan as well as program closings such as Brandon Training School; with cuts due to loss of federal monies such as DET; and with possible cuts in other programs such as the proposal to close the Vermont State Hospital and privatize 200 jobs, which VSEA continues to successfully fight.

 

            3. Incremental increases occur in areas that you would normally expect – personnel costs; utilities and taxes; postage and phones; staff and members’ travel reimbursement for gasoline costs; and, in the case of this fiscal year, we will need additional money for the collective bargaining negotiations which are quite costly but critically important to each and every member.&n bsp; For the first time this year, we have hired our own economist to refute the somewhat biased numbers the state is using to influence bargaining. 

 

                (*1) Employees hired into State government after July 5th, 1998, who choose not be a member of the VSEA, are assessed a fair-share/“agency fee”, (permissible under state and federal law and negotiated into our contracts), which defrays the costs associated with contract negotiations and enforcement, and legislative work relating to pay act funding, position funding/job security, and other initiatives that protect the entire bargaining unit workforce.

                (*2)VSEA has 8 bargaining units: State units – Non-Management, Supervisory, State Police and Corrections; Vermont State Colleges staff; Vermont Judiciary employees; Vermont Defender General’s staff; and Vermont State Housing Authority.

       

            4. Our finances are frequently open to examination by the membership for review.  Every month, the VSEA fiscal office and your elected Treasurer produce20a complete report of income and expenditures that is thoroughly reviewed by the VSEA Board of Trustees.  The VSEA Council members (150 member activists) review the monthly reports at every quarterly meeting. The union’s budget committee makes two formal presentations of the budget – first, a preliminary proposal in June of each year, followed by a budget that includes revisions from the Council body, which is mailed to every member during the month of August, and then reviewed and voted on at the union’s annual membership meeting in September.  It is fair to say that the proposal is well-vetted and presented to every member for their review before it is enacted.  (For a copy of this year’s budget, email us at vsea@vsea.org). We welcome questions or input on the budget, income and expenditures from any VSEA member or agency fee payer.

 

            5. VSEA has independent audits each year, conducted by Roderic Sherman, CPA of Montpelier, Vermont.  This firm specializes in public sector and non-profit organization audits.

 

            6. VSEA is fully compliant with any and all restrictions on the use of agency fee money in activities=2 0such as political action or endorsement, organizing, and other areas.  In fact, the auditing firm conducts a separate audit of the expenditures of agency fee monies. 

 

There are so many challenges and threats to the public sector workforce these days – privatization of public jobs which leads to the balancing or fiscal ‘downturn’ on the backs of employees, demands for ‘take-backs’ in health care and overtime, the under-funding of our pension funds, and an inappropriate disrespect by elected officials for public workers and government.  These challenges must be aggressively met in order to preserve quality public services, fair wages, stable employment, and a decent standard of living for all workers in this country.  VSEA is proud to be a union that fights to make a difference in the lives of our members, while continuing to provide the best public service possible.

 

If you have questions or comments on the dues, budget or other matters, you can contact VSEA at our office in Montpelier (802) 223-5247, or by email – vsea@vsea.org.  If you are an Agency Fee payer and would like to join VSEA or discuss questions relating to becoming a union member, please contact VSEA organizer Gretchen Naylor at the VSEA office in Montpelier.

 

Your continued support of the goals and mission of your union, VSEA,  is greatly appreciated and important to the working lives of thousands of men and women.  In these trying times, I would request you reenergize your efforts to continue to make our state workforce the best that it can be, and also lend your support to your Union’s efforts to provide you with reasonable, fair and sustainable compensation and benefits. 

 

Thank you for the honor of serving as your President again.

 

Respectfully,

 

Bob Hooper

VSEA President

 

cc: VSEA Budget Committee and Board of Trustees