VSEA’s Week In Action Newsletter: February 2, 2018
Final Legislative Dinner Held- The VSEA Legislative Committee sponsored its final issue dinner / reception on February 1, and the topic was maintaining employees’ retirement security. Joining concerned VSEA members and retirees at the event were State Treasurer Beth Pearce and a host of lawmakers. VSEA thanks every member and retiree who attended one or more of this year’s dinner / receptions.
State To Build Temporary
12-Bed Forensic, Mental-Health Facility At
VTDigger reports on January 31 that Department of Mental Health Commissioner Melissa Bailey testified to lawmakers this week about a plan to construct a temporary 12-bed forensic, mental-health unit at the Northwest Regional Correctional Facility in Swanton, aiming for completion in 2019. Forensic patients are defined as those who have “entered the treatment system, via the courts.” VSEA DOC and DMH members have been at the State House asking lawmakers for a forensic unit for years, so the news is welcome to most frontline workers dealing with this population.
From the story:
“The forensic mental health population includes defendants who have been referred for competency or sanity evaluations. It also includes those who have been found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity.
Such patients now are scattered throughout the state’s mental health inpatient beds. At the Vermont Psychiatric Hospital, which has 25 beds, there are 12 to 14 forensic patients at any given time, Bailey said.
Forensic patients also tend to have ‘a significantly longer stay than someone who’s coming into the hospital from a civil commitment process because of the legal system and the legal processes that are involved with that care,’ Deputy Mental Health Commissioner Mourning Fox said.
The department’s new, 12-bed facility dedicated to forensic patients will be housed in an existing building at the Northwest State Correctional Facility in Swanton.”
Bailey told lawmakers that the temporary unit would eventually be replaced by a “larger structure with more beds.”
Note: Most VSEA DOC and DMH members are welcoming the news of a forensic unit opening in 2019, as this has been something VSEA members have been lobbying for at the State House for more than a decade. As proof, here is a line from a Sept. 2007 edition of Week In Action: "VSEA members continue to push for a specialized forensic psychiatry unit to be a part of any State Hospital replacement plan."
"The problems inherent in privately run prisons, from poorly paid and trained staff to lack of programming and activities, inadequate medical care and deficient maintenance are all documented and inherent in the for-profit motive.”
VSEA Policy Analyst Pens Overview Of State’s FY19 Budget Proposal
Following last week’s FY19 budget address by the State’s top official, VSEA Policy Analyst Adam Norton reviewed all the documents made available to the press and public, and he has boiled down his findings into a one-page summary. VSEA members are urged to read through Norton’s summary to learn what’s being proposed and if your service could be hurt or helped by language in the State’s FY19 budget proposal.
VSEA First Vice President Aimee Towne sent an email yesterday to all Council members, asking you to click on a link to complete a short survey in advance of the Council’s February 14 meeting in Montpelier. Towne is urging Council members to complete the survey no later than Monday, February 5.
If you are a Council member who did not receive the survey, please contact Aimee Towne (firstname.lastname@example.org) and she can send you the link.
Seven Days Reports: State Officials Met With CoreCivic Lobbyists
Prior To Announcement Of Private-Prison Proposal
There’s been a lot written recently about the State’s proposal to allow an out-of-state, for-profit, private contractor to build a 925-bed prison and forensic mental health facility right here in Vermont, and now Seven Days reports on January 26 that lobbyists for private-prison behemoth CoreCivic were meeting with top State officials prior to any formal announcement about the proposal.
From the story:
“Months before [the State] proposed partnering with a private prison corporation to build a 925-bed facility in northwestern Vermont, the [State’s top official] and two cabinet officials met with industry lobbyists who could benefit from the plan.
Records obtained by Seven Days show [State officials met] with representatives of CoreCivic, formerly known as Corrections Corporation of America, during a February 2017 trip to Washington, D.C. According to [State] spokesperson Rebecca Kelley, the 15-minute meeting included CoreCivic’s Ohio-based lobbyist, Dan Kaman, and the company’s Vermont lobbyist, Andrew MacLean.”
Belonging To A Union Gives Working People Like Us The Power To Make Positive Change!
“Having an equal voice at the table when decisions are being made about our workplace, our livelihood, our health, and well being is the way we build better stronger communities for our families and future generations.”
Chair, VSEA Judiciary Unit Executive Committee
A Year After Moving Vermont Inmates To Pennsylvania Prison, Big Problems Being Alleged
In May 2017, WIA reported on the Vermont DOC signing a new contract with its Pennsylvania counterpart to house 250 Vermont inmates in two Pennsylvania prisons. The deal came with a hefty price tag of $7.1 million annually for three years (with extensions possible). Many questioned the move, because at the same time the deal was being negotiated and signed, several State officials and lawmakers were publicly declaring that it was the goal of Vermont to return all of its out-of-state inmates back to their home state. Even larger questions arose after it was divulged that the deal required the Vermont inmates to relinquish their rights and essentially become Pennsylvania DOC inmates. Now, Seven Days reports on January 31 that, less than a year in, Vermont inmates are alleging mistreatment and abuse.
From the story:
“Unlike past housing arrangements with private contractors, Vermont no longer makes the rules for how guards treat its out-of-state inmates. That puts Pennsylvania in charge of holding guards accountable for the way prisoners are treated. [Vermont] Inmates such as Wool have reported both threats and intimidation.”
“Because of limited phone access, Camp Hill inmates rely mostly on letters and a pay-per-message online system similar to email. In letters to Seven Days, three inmates detailed threats they say corrections officials have made since mid-December.
Vermont’s deputy corrections commissioner, Mike Touchette, told the House Corrections and Institutions Committee on January 9 that budgetary concerns restrict Vermont’s ability to force Pennsylvania to change conditions for Vermonters.
‘The more demands we place on the receiving state to provide services or follow our policies and procedures, it requires additional staffing, which drives the price up,’ he said.”
The story concludes that Pennsylvania officials refused to comment on the specific allegations being made to Seven Days.
VTDigger reports today that Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe is openly contesting one of the State’s primary talking points, which is that Vermont loses six workers every day, calling the statistic “completely incorrect.”
“For the last year and a half we’re getting an average of 2.3 people in the labor force,” Ashe explains. “It’s not the same as six leaving the labor force. Six can’t be leaving if we have two coming every day.”
The State is firing back, claiming Ashe is attempting “to mislead Vermonters about these facts by intentionally using a smaller timeframe to skew the numbers.”
Note: State Auditor Doug Hoffer posted a clarifying comment to the VTDigger story, writing, “It is noteworthy that while the labor force declined (mostly due to retirements), Vermont gained 20,000 new jobs. That is, not only did we fill the jobs vacated by retirees, but we created 20,000 more. So while the long-term demographic change is real, it has not yet prevented
VSEA was sorry to learn this morning that the Vermont Bucks, after being purchased by new owners, will not be fielding a team this season. No word yet if the Bucks will be fielding a team in 2019. VSEA apologizes to members and their families who were interested in this year’s discounted
The New York Times published a story today about the factors that are contributing to a weird phenomena occurring today in America, and that’s the failure of workers’ wages to keep pace with a growing economy that has featured an increase in jobs nationwide. The article points to several factors for the wage stagnation, including restraints on competition, a lagging minimum wage, globalization and automation, sluggish productivity, outsourcing and declining unionization.
From the article:
“A collapse in the rate of union membership for private-sector employees — to 6.5 percent last year from the upper teens in the early 1980s — appears to have played a key role in holding down wages. This is partly because unions benefit workers directly: Average pay for workers represented by unions tends to be higher than for those who aren’t, even after controlling for education and other characteristics. But unions also benefit workers indirectly. In industries and regions where unions have a larger presence, pay tends to be higher for all low- and medium-wage workers, not just those represented by unions.
“If you work for a nonunion firm and your employer is worried about the possibility of a unionization drive, one way to dampen down that possibility is to pay workers at the union rate,” said Jake Rosenfeld, a sociologist at Washington University in St. Louis.
The effects are especially pronounced for men. A recent study by Mr. Rosenfeld and two colleagues estimated that wages for men employed in the private sector who are not union members would have been 5 percent higher on average — about $2,700 per year — by 2013 if unions had the same reach as in the late 1970s. (The figure excludes senior managers.) For men with only a high school diploma or less, that figure rose to nearly $3,200.
National Nurses Union Launches Campaign
The National Nurses Union created an online page this week, dedicated to promoting the union’s campaign to convince the U.S. Congress to pass a bill mandating national, safe RN (registered nurse)-to-patient staffing levels. The NNU page includes links for supporters to send letters to their congressional representatives, urging them to support safe staffing ratios.
From the NNU page:
RNs nationwide are actively working with NNU to win their own mandated direct-care RN-to-patient staffing ratios. RNs in other nations have also been fighting to improve conditions for their patients. Studies show that staffing ratios save lives, yet understaffing is a major issue RNs struggle with every day. Together, we can change that. JOIN OUR RATIOS COALITION HERE!
Safe staffing saves lives! That’s why nurses applaud the intro of bills in the Senate by Sen. Sherrod Brown (S.1063) and in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (H.R.2392)—sponsored by NNU—that set safety limits on the # of patients each RN can care for in hospitals throughout the U.S.
The bills are modeled on California’s nurse-to-patient ratios law, fought for and won by the California Nurses Association/NNU. We will never stop fighting for our patients.”
The NNU bills are S. 1063 in the U.S. Senate and HR. 2392 in the U.S. House.
For all you VSEA beer enthusiasts, the Burlington Free Press reports on February 1 that the Hill Farmstead Brewery in Greensboro, Vt., has been rated the world’s best brewery by RateBeer, “a brew-review website featuring the opinions of beer critics and aficionados from around the world.” It’s the fourth year in a row the brewery has claimed the title, which is pretty impressive.
Other Vermont breweries also received honors and recognition from RateBeer, including:
The Alchemist, based in Stowe, had its renowned hoppy brew Heady Topper make the list of top 100 beers in the world;
The Prohibition Pig restaurant/brewery in Waterbury was among the choices for best places for beer in the United States;
Eden Specialty Ciders, based in Newport, placed three of its varieties in the top 15 on the best-by-style list of cider and perry, an alcoholic drink made of pears; and
Burlington-based House of Fermentology was named best new brewer in Vermont for 2017.
Punxsutawney Phil scrambled up out of his burrow this morning and saw his shadow, meaning six more weeks of winter. If you love snow and winter, great news, but if you are ready for spring, not so great news.
VSEA’s Communications Department is happy to disseminate any and all communications the leadership, Chapters, Units, and others request, however, the lists the Department currently pull from are provided to the union by the State of Vermont. VSEA’s Communications Department has found the lists to be dated, incomplete and sometimes lacking key information that was entered by a VSEA staff person but later overwritten or deleted during a State data dump.
To help VSEA more effectively reach active members—and really all those members who want to know what’s going on in their union—VSEA will be working hard in the coming months to collect members’ emails on its own and begin to build contact lists that cannot be altered by a State download.
You can help us get started by clicking here and signing up for the VSEA communications you are interested in receiving.
Thank you in advance for subscribing. Please urge your colleagues to do the same.
We Want To Know What You Think of VSEA’s Week In Action
Collective bargaining is the process by which unionized employees negotiate with their employer over mandatory subjects of bargaining, including wages, benefits like health insurance, working conditions and a grievance procedure to enforce the contract.
A lot has happened since the VSEA was officially recognized in 1944 as the voice for Vermont’s state employee workforce, and VSEA’s Communications Department has compiled many of your union’s notable victories and achievements in an online chronological history of the VSEA.
President Bellini Wants Your Cost-Savings Idea(s)!
Heading into the January 2018 session, VSEA members already knew it was going to be another case of “new budget year, new budget deficit.” It’s a Vermont problem that refuses to go away, and our state’s quality public services and many of the men and women who deliver them continue to suffer as a result.
In past deficit years, VSEA members have been asked to voluntarily submit cost-savings ideas to headquarters, in hopes that some of your ideas could be adopted and implemented, eventually generating the funds needed to save a service or jobs. In 2010, the Vermont Legislature followed VSEA’s lead, passing legislation to provide cash awards to state employees whose ideas were vetted by a special committee and found to generate savings. Unfortunately, this legislation sunset in 2012, and lawmakers have not resurrected it–yet.
For this reason—and in advance of the 2018 legislative session—VSEA President Dave Bellini is again asking frontline state employees with “department- or agency-specific cost-savings ideas” to please submit them to VSEA as soon as possible. Again, President Bellini is looking for department or agency-specific ideas, and nothing "philosophical," he politely requests.
Thank you in advance for your attention to this very important request.
If Searching For Child Care, Don’t Forget This Important Resource For State Employees
Longtime VSEA member, now retiree, Dave Clark has served on VSEA’s Child and Elder Care Committee for many years, and he recently asked WIA to remind state employees about an important child-care resource that is currently available to them.
“The Committee has noticed a recent decline in employees’ usage of the valuable child-care resources available to them, so we asked WIA to help us remind VSEA members about what is available,” explains Clark.
The VSEA Membership Recruitment Committee is pleased to announce a 2018 casino trip with a two-night stay.
March 23 to
March 25, 2018
$70 per person
Bus will depart from Waterbury at 12:00 p.m. and White River Junction at 1:00 p.m.
Lodging (Two Nights/Two Trees Inn):
$138 per person/double occupancy
$122 per person/triple occupancy
(2) $10 food credit or full Festival Buffet;
$5 food credit or full Breakfast Buffet;
$20 slot play;
20% discount at any Foxwoods gift shop with a purchase of $25 up to $1,000; and
A Foxwoods souvenir.
To register or for more information, please contact VSEA Union Rep Bob South (email@example.com) or Administrative Assistant Sue DeVoid (firstname.lastname@example.org). Each can be reached by phone at 802-223-5247.
Payment must be received within one week of registering or you will lose your spot. Cash, check and credit card payments accepted. To pay, please contact VSEA Union Representative Bob South by email (email@example.com) or phone 802-223-5247. Thank You!
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