VSEA’s Week In Action Newsletter: August 23, 2019

VSEA’s Executive Branch Units (Non-Management, Corrections and Supervisory) have just begun negotiations with the State and VSEA’s State Colleges and Judiciary Units are meeting regularly in advance of new rounds of negotiations with the Chancellor and Court Administrator. Please remember to stand in solidarity with your Unit Bargaining Team and give them a "thanks" every once in a while for fighting on your behalf and for all state employees and retirees. Have a question or comment for your Unit Team, find their contact information here.  



VSEA Strongly Disputes Local Television Station’s Report On Corrections Staffing Levels 

Just five months ago, CRCF members
(l to r): Roy Catella, Hannah Buckleybradle, Steffen Flibotte, and Erika Weaver were at the State House to testify to lawmakers about understaffing and other issues inside Vermont’s prisons.

Local Vermont television station WCAX aired a story this week that featured Department of Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette discussing Vermont prison staffing levels. Touchette tells the reporter that our state is staffing better than many other states and it’s essentially not a big issue, but he fails to qualify his statement with an explanation of the understaffing problems many VSEA Corrections members say are still chronic daily throughout Vermont’s prison system. 

In response to the WCAX story, VSEA issued the following press release on Monday afternoon:

VSEA Blasts WCAX Story On Prison Staffing

VSEA President Dave Bellini and VSEA Board of Trustees member Joe Silvestri are blasting a story that aired last night on WCAX about Vermont Corrections staffing levels. In the piece, Department of Corrections Commissioner Mike Touchette tells a WCAX reporter that staffing is not an issue at Vermont’s correctional facilities; a statement Bellini, Silvestri and a majority of VSEA Corrections Unit members say is simply false.

“VSEA members have been providing testimony to lawmakers—for years— about chronic issues of understaffing, forced overtime and temp use inside Vermont’s prisons,” says Bellini. “If the WCAX reporter had reached out to the people actually doing the work inside prisons—or VSEA—for comment, I can assure you he would have a completely different take on the situation.”

“I’m pretty certain Commissioner Touchette has heard frontline DOC corrections employees’ calls for increased staffing loud and clear, and that he understands the staffing reality a lot more than he let on to WCAX," adds VSEA Board member and DOC employee Joe Silvestri. "We’ve communicated to him over and over that our prisons are not properly staffed and correctional officers are being force to do mandated overtime regularly. The commissioner stretched the truth here, and I think he knows it."

Silvestri is right, apparently. Commissioner Touchette sent an email to all DOC staff today about the WCAX interview. In it, he writes:

"Overtime rates are still very high for Vermont staff. Staff are working way too many hours and I recognize that this not only impacts your personal and family lives, but also makes doing the work even more difficult when you are tired. 

My comments in this interview were in no way intended to diminish the realities of the Vermont correctional staffing needs. I apologize if it was construed as failing to recognize that we still have a lot of work to do, because we do."

Full Touchette Email To Staff

Note: WCAX is offering to do a follow-up to this story to allow VSEA Corrections members to weigh in personally about staffing and other issues. 

Some Things Never Change…

VSEA’s Communications Department has been combing through the union’s archived photos (what there are of them) and came across this shot from decades ago. Pictured is a VSEA member protesting staffing DOC cuts and understaffing. 

Possible Dues Increase Proposal Warned This Week 

On Monday, the VSEA Board of Trustees WARNed members via email about "the potential" for a dues-increase proposal to be introduced at this year’s VSEA Annual Meeting on September 14 at the Okemo Resort in Ludlow. 

The proposal WARN was sent to the primary email address that VSEA currently has on file for you. If you do not recall receiving an email from VSEA headquarters on August 19, please look in your “Other” or “Spam” folders before contacting headquarters to request a copy. You can update your contact information here anytime.

Don’t Recall Seeing This Email?

Executive Branch Bargaining Teams Sit Down With State For Coordinated Bargaining 

VSEA’s Non-Management, Corrections and Supervisory Unit Bargaining Teams will meet jointly with State negotiators on Tuesday, August 27, to conduct the first session of "coordinated bargaining" on universal issues, like wages and benefits. Later in the week, individual Units will meet with State negotiators to bargain Unit-specific issues.     

Labor Relations Director Gary Hoadley is sharing meeting summaries on VSEA’s website. The summaries are in the "Members Only" section of VSEA.org. Only registered users can view. Register Here

After logging in to VSEA.org, registered members can navigate to the "Members Only" drop-down menu, located in the homepage’s left-hand column. You can expand a drop-down from there and select "Negotiation Notes From VSEA Director of Labor Relations Gary Hoadley" or you can click "Member-Only Documents" and then on the following page, click the same heading.

Gary Hoadley’s "Negotiation Notes"
Log-in Required

Bargaining Meeting Dates Added To The VSEA.org Calendar

Central Vermont Chapter Passes Climate Change Resolution


The Times Argus published a story on August 14 about members of VSEA’s Central Vermont Chapter passing and now championing a climate change proposal for the union that could be a topic of discussion at this year’s VSEA Annual Meeting in September. 

VSEA members Bob Atchinson and Ned Swanberg drafted the proposal, which reads, in part:

“The members of the Central Vermont Chapter of the Vermont State Employees’ Association calls on all union members and all governments and peoples worldwide to declare a Climate Emergency.” 

As the story details, the members’ proposal also includes a call to action and steps to be taken by individuals and groups to achieve the goal to reduce climate change worldwide. 

VSEA Executive Director Steve Howard is quoted in the story, saying it’s not yet clear if VSEA would consider adopting the Central Vermont Chapter’s climate emergency proposal at its Annual Meeting in September.

“Whether the union as a whole will, is not clear at this point,” he says. “Members can certainly bring up anything that is not on the agenda. And there are members of VSEA who are interested in the impacts of climate change."

To Narrow Spending Gap, State Asks Depts. & Agencies To Find 20% Savings, But There Is Another Way

Given the State’s charge to department and agency heads to come up with a 20% reduction in spending by August 30 to "help close the gap between the projected growth in spending and available revenues," it might be time to revisit narrowing Vermont’s income gap by asking the state’s wealthiest to pay a little more. 

VTDigger, June 2019: State Asks Agencies for Plan to Cut Growing Spending Gap by 20% 

Remember, according to a January 2018 Public Assets Institute report, from 2006 to 2016, average nominal income for the top 5 percent of Vermont earners rose 42 percent. Over the same period, the bottom fifth of earners saw an average increase of 6 percent.

VTDigger, January 2018 Story: Report Finds Poverty and Income Gap Growing in Vermont 

And then there’s this 2011 flashback from a Seven Days column penned by Shay Totten:

"It’s not every day that a group of Vermonters asks to be taxed more. But that’s just what happened last week when 50 of the state’s wealthiest residents wrote Gov. Peter Shumlin a letter to say they’d pony up to help close the state’s $176 million budget gap and keep services intact for the poor, elderly and disabled."

Sadly, nothing came of the letter writers’ request and cuts to state jobs and services were enacted instead as the primary way to balance Vermont’s budget. 

So what do you think? Is it time? If so, talk with your local lawmakers about the idea to see if they are supportive. Remember, a 20% reduction in spending could translate to a lot of pain for Vermont’s public services and the Vermonters who provide them daily.

See larger image here!

It’s VSEA Chapter Annual Meeting Season

VSEA Chapter Annual Meetings are currently being held statewide, in advance of VSEA’s Annual Meeting in September. This is your Chapter’s most important meeting of the year, as this is often the meeting where Chapter officer elections are conducted and Chapter business is discussed and decisions and expenditures approved, or not.  

Here is a list of upcoming Chapter Annual Meetings 

White River Junction Chapter 
Thursday, August 29
12:00 p.m.
State Office Building
118 Prospect Street
First Floor Conference Room, Suite 300
White River Junction

AFLAC Enrollment – Sign up through VSEA!

WIA was asked by VSEA Benefits Administrator, Joanne Woodcock, to include the following in this week’s newsletter:

VSEA Insurance Benefits is now making the following Aflac insurance policies available to VSEA members!

View this full flyer ad! (PDF)

Set Up An Appointment Here!

* Certain face amounts may not be available. Underwriting requirements apply. ** Subject to certain conditions and payment of claims is subject to all policy limitations and exclusions and pre-existing conditions. 
This is a brief product overview for illustrative purposes only. Benefits and/or premiums may vary based on the state and benefit option selected. Riders may be available for an additional premium. Policies described herein have limitations and exclusions that may affect benefits payable. For costs and complete details of the coverage, contact your Aflac insurance agent/producer. Individual coverage is underwritten by American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus.  
WWHQ | 1932 Wynnton Road, Columbus, GA 31999 | aflac.com

Learn more about VSEA Insurance benefits online!

Quote Of
The Week!


"If we are serious about rebuilding the middle class in America, we have got to rebuild, strengthen and expand the trade union movement in America.

Vermont U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, on August 21, announcing his comprehensive plan to "revive and empower organized labor." CNN and several other outlets aired stories about the rollout of Sanders’ "Workplace Democracy Plan." 


Upcoming Meetings:


Employee Appreciation Day Event

  • Waterbury  
    Wednesday, August 28

    11:30 a.m.
    State Office Complex
    Courtyard (Sun) Atrium (Rain)

    Questions: Contact VSEA Organizer Danielle Warner: dwarner@vsea.org

  • Lamoille Valley 
    Thursday, September 5

    12:00 p.m.
    State Office Building
    63 Professional Drive
    Outside, or if weather is bad in the shared conference room
  • Questions: Contact VSEA Organizer David Oppenheimer: doppenheimer@vsea.org

Chapter Meetings

  • White River Junction
    Thursday, August 29

    12:00 p.m.
    State Office Building
    118 Prospect Street
    First Floor Conference Room, Suite 300
    White River Junction

    Questions: Contact VSEA Organizer David Oppenheimer: doppenheimer@vsea.org


Talking Points:


Sign Petition To Support Nurses At Brattleboro Memorial Hospital!

Nurses, represented by the American Federation of Teachers and working at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, are currently in negotiations with management for a new contract.

An online petition is now available for the public to show its support for the nurses and their fight to negotiate:

  • A safe workplace with the necessary tools and staffing to foster the best care that our friends and family rely on;
  • Parity with other area Hospitals as a means to reducing the reliance on travelers and to recruit and retain trained nurses, technicians and ancillary staff here in Windham County; and
  • Improved benefits to ensure that nurses can retire with dignity and have expanded access to area health care.

Sign The Nurses’ Petition

Vermont Labor Relations Board Rules Against Burlington Teachers

Photo: VTDigger

Even though the rules were changed after the fact, Burlington teachers seeking to be paid for four days they were on strike in September 2017 were denied restitution this week by the Vermont Labor Relations Board (VLRB). 

From an August 19 VTDigger story:

The union (Burlington Education Association) says teachers were promised back pay if the school year was extended by four days.

However, after the new contract was signed Burlington Superintendent Yaw Obeng changed plans, according to filings in the case. 

On Oct. 25, 2017, Obeng advised Burlington teachers of the revised school calendar by switching teacher training days into school days in order to meet the state required length for a school year. So no extra days were scheduled. 

The union argues this decision undercut the 2.5% salary increase the teachers were seeking and ultimately were awarded when the strike was resolved. 

The union sought to address the revised calendar with the school board, “but the School District had no interest” and adopted the revised schedule without agreement from the teachers, according to the labor board ruling. 

Kentucky Coal Miners Continue To Block Railroad Tracks, Demanding To Be Paid

The New York Times reported Monday on a three-week blockage of a railway by a group of Kentucky coal miners who are demanding to be paid for the coal (that they dug) being transported on the railway! 

From the story: 

A protest that began with five men blocking a train full of coal has grown into a small 24-hour tent city along some railroad tracks next to the highway. It has become a pilgrimage site for labor activists, a rallying point for the community — “a tailgate party on steroids,” as one local official approvingly put it. And it is the first organized miners’ protest that anyone can remember for decades in Harlan County, Ky., a place once virtually synonymous with bloody labor wars.

The railroad blockade began in late July, about a month after Blackjewel, the two-year-old company where the miners worked, suddenly declared bankruptcy. Blackjewel owned mines in four states, and employed over a thousand miners in central Appalachia.

Miners learned in the middle of an afternoon shift that Blackjewel was shutting down immediately and putting everyone out of work. It did so without filing a mandatory 60-day advance warning and without posting a bond, required by Kentucky law, to cover payroll.

Workers received no pay for their last week on the job. Then they learned that their paychecks for the previous two weeks had bounced. Bankruptcies and layoffs have become routine in the coal fields during a grueling industrywide decline, but no one seemed to recall anything quite like this.

“It’s no different from robbing a bank,” said Jeffrey Willig, a wiry 40-year-old father of six.

Note: Stay strong! It is robbery.

This Week:

VSEA Strongly Disputes Local Television Station’s Report On Corrections Staffing Levels 

Possible Dues Increase Proposal Warned This Week 

Executive Branch Bargaining Teams Sit Down With State For Coordinated Bargaining 

Central Vermont Chapter Passes Climate Change Resolution

To Narrow Spending Gap, State Asks Depts. & Agencies To Find 20% Savings, But There Is Another Way

Union-Made School Supplies List

It’s VSEA Chapter Annual Meeting Season

AFLAC Enrollment – Sign up through VSEA!


Talking Points:


Sign Petition To Support Nurses At Brattleboro Memorial Hospital!

Vermont Labor Relations Board Rules Against Burlington Teachers

Kentucky Coal Miners Continue To Block Railroad Tracks, Demanding To Be Paid


Next Week’s Calendar:


August 27
Awards & Scholarships Committee Meeting
155 State Street
8:00 a.m.

August 27
VSEA Executive Branch Units’ Coordinated Bargaining w/ State
8:30 a.m.

August 28
VSEA NMU Bargaining w/ State
8:30 a.m.

August 28
Employee Appreciation Day Event: Waterbury
State Office Complex
Courtyard (Sun)
Atrium (Rain)
11:30 a.m.

August 29
VSEA Corrections Unit Bargaining w/ State

August 29
VSEA Supervisory Unit Bargaining w/ State

August 29
Chapter Annual Meeting: White River Junction
State Office Building
118 Prospect Street
First Floor Conference Room. 300 
White River Junction
12:00 p.m.


Important Reminders:


VSEA BAC Members’ Update On Blue Cross Claims Issues

VSEA Legislative Committee & Staff’s End-Of-Session Report

Steward Trainings Posted To Website

Seeking Annual Meeting Award Nominations!

State Employees Who Are Threatened On The Job Should File "eAlert" Form

Strength In Numbers! VSEA Membership Drive 2019 Ends September 1!

Told You’re Being Investigated?
Watch This Video!

What You Should Know About The Anti-Worker Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

Getting Ready To Retire? Retired Already? Join The VSEA Retired Members’ Chapter!

What Is The VSEA Advantage Program?


Thank you for reading Week In Action!


VSEA Benefits Advisory Committee Update On Blue Cross Claims Issues

VSEA’s Board and Benefits Advisory Committee, via WIA, recently messaged VSEA members and retirees about issues with Blue Cross / Blue Shield’s claim process. 

BAC Committee member Cindy Chornyak asked WIA to include this update this week, and we are happy to oblige.

Regarding the Blue Cross claims problems our health plan has experienced since January 1, 2019:  We want members to know that your VSEA representatives have been working closely with the State on your behalf to get these issues resolved. In May of this year, through the Benefits Advisory Committee, VRSEA Trustees and the VSEA members sent a strongly worded letter to the Commissioner of Human Resources, citing the many claim problems that our plan members have encountered.  We asked the State to assess the maximum performance penalties available under its contract with Blue Cross for the poor performance. And we are pleased to announce that to date in 2019, our health plan has assessed over $132,000 in performance penalties.

Recently VSEA learned of another newly discovered glitch in the Blue Cross claims system. Blue Cross has been assessing a $30 specialist co-pay for certain provider claims that should have a $25 regular co-pay instead. This can occur, for example, when a member sees a Nurse Practitioner instead of a doctor, which is fairly common these days. Our plan does not require that members choose a primary care physician. Claims by Nurse Practitioners or Physicians Assistants working with a physician should be covered the same as the physician’s claim.  

The State Benefits Office has asked Blue Cross for a date certain by which this glitch will be fixed and for a complete rundown of all state health plan members who have been impacted since January 1, when the new Blue Cross claims system came online. Blue Cross has promised that once the fix is in place, they will reprocess all affected member claims and fix any errors that might have occurred. Members do not need to take any action; any misprocessed claims will be reprocessed and correctly paid by Blue Cross. VSEA is closely monitoring this situation on your behalf as well.

Click Here For More Information

VTPAC Silent Auction Needs Your Donations!

The VSEA members of the Vermont Political Awareness Committee (VTPAC), the group that helps make sure candidates that support your​ interests get elected to office, is looking for donations for a silent auction to be held the weekend of Annual Meeting.

Members willing to donate anything from homemade goods to services at the businesses of family or friends—or anything else that you think people would be interested in bidding on—should contact VTPAC Chair Kara Haynes at ​karahaynes802@gmail.com.

VSEA Legislative Committee & Staff’s End-Of-Session Report

At the June VSEA Council meeting, VSEA Legislative Committee Chair Margaret Crowley and Legislative Specialist Tom Abdelnour shared a powerpoint presentation with the body that summarized the 2019 legislative session that ended in May. 

VSEA members and retirees are invited to:

View Summary

Steward Trainings Posted To Website

VSEA Field Services Director Gretchen Naylor posted several PDF versions of the steward training presentations she is leading statewide. Note: Depending on your settings, each link below will open a PDF in your web browser or download the PDF to your computer or device.

The posted trainings include:

1) The Role of Stewards In Grievances

2) Steward Training – Providing Representation In An Investigation

3) Duty Of Fair Representation

Seeking Annual Meeting Award Nominations!

Last Chance!
Deadline is Monday, August 26!

It’s time again to submit your nominations for a 2019 VSEA Outstanding Performance Award in the categories below. To date, there have not been many nominations submitted, so VSEA is asking members and retirees to please take a few minutes today to make a nomination(s).   

Click the buttons to make nominations online:

Outstanding VSEA Chapter:

Chapter Of The Year

Outstanding VSEA Steward:

Steward Of The Year

Outstanding Service to VSEA:

Frank A. Mazza Memorial Award

Outstanding Public Service:

Terence D. Macaig Award

Outstanding VSEA Staff Member:

Linda Coan Memorial Award

VSEA’s Awards and Scholarships Committee is urging members to give some thought to each of these awards and if you know of a deserving state employee—or a deserving Chapter—then please don’t hesitate to submit your nomination(s).

Winners will be announced at VSEA’s Annual Meeting in September.

State Employees Who Are Threatened On The Job Should File "eAlert" Form

We are reminding members that there is an online form to fill out if you are threatened while at work

Find The State’s “eAlert” Homepage Here
Important: Once you land on the eAlert page, you will see an entry labeled “threat” in the menu provided. Click on it and you land on a page with written instructions and fields to complete.
In November 2017, the current Secretary of the Administration sent the State’s “Workplace Safety and Security” policy to state employees, and VSEA members are encouraged to read through the different policies, examples and responses, prior to an actual event occurring.

VSEA Membership Drive 2019
Now Underway!

Ending Soon!

Strength In Numbers!

A reminder that your union’s 2019 membership-recruitment drive is underway. Rewards for recruiting new members between now and
September 1!

  • 2 new members – Dunkin Donuts gift card;
  • 5 new members – VSEA insulated coffee mug; or
  • 10 new members – $50 VISA gift card!

Bonus! Recruit a new member and receive an entry in a drawing to win one of four $300 prizes to be awarded at VSEA’s 2019 Annual Meeting! Each new recruit earns you an additional entry! Just be sure to have your recruits add your name in the "Recruited By" line of the VSEA Membership Application.
More Membership Drive Information Here!

Need a quick reference to help with your recruiting? You can view an informational webpage with some recruitment tips and advice here.

If you have any questions, or want a list of non-members in your area, please contact VSEA Director of Operations and Organizing Amy Kinsell by email: akinsell@vsea.org

Told You’re Being Investigated? Watch This Video!

Please take a few minutes on a break to watch the video, and know that the information being relayed could very well save your job someday. Remember, as a VSEA member, you are entitled to no-cost representation in investigatory meetings that may lead to discipline. Non-members, however, must now pay a rate of $250 to $350 per-hour for the same level of representation!

More: Know Your Union Rights

Not currently a VSEA member?
You can sign up online.

What You Should Know About The Anti-Worker Janus v. AFSCME U.S. Supreme Court Ruling

If you haven’t already, begin educating yourself today about what the Janus decision means—or supplement what you know already. Please also inform your co-workers about this Janus page and talk with them about what you learned and remind them of the importance of a union in their everyday life. You could make a difference. Every study shows that nothing is more effective than member-to-member communication.​

Learn More On VSEA.org

Getting Ready To Retire? Retired Already? Join The VSEA Retired Members’ Chapter!

Long-time VSEA activist and leader Terry Lefebvre is asking VSEA members getting ready to retire to join the VSEA Retirees’ Chapter to continue to be an active and engaged union member, even in retirement. Lefebvre also appeals to VSEA members to talk up the co-workers they know who might be preparing to retire. If you already belong to the Retired Members’ Chapter, a big thanks to you.

Learn More Here About The VSEA Retired Members’ Chapter

What is the VSEA Advantage Program?

Did you know?
The average VSEA member can save hundreds of dollars a year by taking advantage of some of the Members Only benefits offered through their union!


It’s free, just for being a Vermont State Employees’ Association PerksConnect member!

Learn More!

Questions? Feel free to email 
vsea@ vsea.org


Need To Update Your Contact Information
With VSEA? 

Don’t Have
Union Card? 

Request A Green VSEA Union Card

Have You Been Threatened
At Work? 

Send A Threat Report To VSEA

Are You A
Council Member?

Join the VSEA Council Facebook group here!

Are You A
Chapter President?

Join the VSEA Chapter Presidents 
group here!

Are You A

Join the VSEA Steward Facebook
group here!





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