December 15, 2015
Taking advantage of the especially balmy temperatures that graced Vermont on Tuesday, VSEA members packed a small courtyard outside the Supreme Court and Pavilion Buildings in Montpelier to conduct a “worker safety” rally in advance of the 2016 legislative session, which begins on January 5. Holding signs reading “We Support Our State Employees” (which are now available for pickup at VSEA HQ!), VSEA members, supporters and the press heard firsthand accounts of the need for worksite safety enhancements from Economic Services Division Benefits Program Specialist (and VSEA First VP) Aimee Towne, Green Mountain Psychiatric Care Facility Mental Health Specialist Beverly Ordway, Judiciary Family Case Manager Bill Capasso and Department for Children and Families Social Worker Kara Haynes.
Towne reminded members that the time for action on this important issue is now and she related how she had recently been frightened by a Vermonter who loudly challenged her work in a not so nice way in the middle of a convenience store. She was not officially on the job but had forgotten to remove her state ID badge. Ordway spoke about the high number of patient-on-staff assaults just this year at the GMPCF (160 through October 2015), and she reminded that this workforce couldn’t report these incidents the same way a DCF or other worker can because the assaults are kept confidential. “For workers at the State Hospital, the issue of worker safety is something all of us think about nearly every day,” Ordway said. “We’re told sometimes that the nature of our work is dangerous, but that doesn’t make an assault on a staff person any easier.” Capasso reminded that Judiciary workers have been waiting for some or all of a report’s recommended safety enhancements to be implemented in courthouses across Vermont. That report, he reminded, was delivered to lawmakers in January 2015. Capasso pleaded, “We’re the ones that make the judiciary run, we want respect, we want to feel safe when we come to work.” Finally, Haynes reminded about the terrible tragedy in Barre in August and how workers had recently come forward with recommendations for safety enhancements that they will be lobbying hard in 2016 to get implemented. “If we can’t protect the children we’re supposed to be protecting, what’s the point of state government?” Haynes asked.
Following the speakers’ remarks, a delegation of rank-and-file VSEA leaders, led by President Bellini and Treasurer Coniff, walked in to the Pavilion Building and hand-delivered a letter listing VSEA’s top three legislative priorities (number one being worker and public safety enhancements) to Secretary of the Administration Justin Johnson, who would not discuss details of what the State is doing to address safety now, and he cautioned that nothing the State does will ever make things 100 percent safe. When asked by Bellini about the possibility of installing metal detectors in Probation and Parole offices, Johnson replied, "We will be doing something, absolutely.”
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