On-The-Job Safety & Security Takes Center Stage At VSEA’s State House Day 2019
Steffen Flibotte explains the unsafe working conditions at the Vermont Department of Corrections to lawmakers. Victoria Barry discusses safety concerns at Vermont
For years now, VSEA State House Day noon-time member speak-outs in House chambers have been a highlight of the day. Past speak-outs have centered on contract battles, preventing job cuts, chronic understaffing, privatization and temp workers. This year’s speak-out gave VSEA members and opportunity to directly address lawmakers about state employees’ ongoing safety and security concerns while at work.
Council Chair Aimee Towne welcomed members and lawmakers to the House well, and Aimee then introduced four VSEA members who publicly shared their first-hand accounts of why enhanced safety and security is so important where they work. The speakers, in the order they presented, were:
Mike Arace (Probation and Parole) – Reiterated his and a majority of his co-workers support for passage of a "defensive weapons" bill that would allow Probation and Parole Officers to carry a weapon;
Steffen Flibotte (DOC) – Reminded of the day-to-day dangers of working in a prison, emphasizing the elevated danger of injury or worse to COs while transporting inmates;
Victoria Barry (Judiciary) – Stressed the need for stepped-up security for courthouse employees statewide; a plea these workers have been making for years now; and
Beverly Ordway (VPCH) – Spoke out against assaults on workers by VPCH patients and the need for increased staff to prevent sometimes violent incidents that have actually landed several frontline workers in the emergency room.
After the remarks concluded, a dozen or so lawmakers in attendance introduced themselves and spoke to VSEA members about what they and their colleagues and committees are working on, with respect to state employee issues. Several were ex-state employees themselves and were able to relate to what they were hearing, especially when it came to safety and security, staffing, privatization and temp issues.
VSEA members were also able to meet with their respective lawmakers throughout the day to talk about the issues in their worksites and what they need in order to provide the best service possible to Vermonters.
VSEA members talk with Lt. Governor David Zuckerman at the Annual State House Day Legislative Reception.
Annual VSEA Legislative Reception
This year’s State House Day once again featured a well-attended VSEA Legislative Reception in the capitol’s Cedar Creek Room, where members were able to talk informally with their lawmakers over drinks and horderves.
VSEA thanks every member and retiree who attended this year’s State House Day to show lawmakers and State officials at the State House what real collective power looks like!
Chittenden DOC Members Educate Legislature’s Women’s Caucus About Staffing And Other Issues
After touring the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility last week, members of the Legislature’s Women’s Caucus asked to meet today with VSEA DOC members who work at the facility to discuss staffing and other employee concerns, as well as get some perspective on how it is to work with female inmates who are detoxing and the challenges associated. The workers lobbied for additional funding to help resolve the facility’s chronic staffing issues.
Pictured here testifying are CRCF members
(l to r): Roy Catella, Hannah Buckleybradle, Steffen Flibotte, and Erika Weaver.
The Reason Why VSEA Is Contesting The State’s Infants At Work Policy
This is a friendly reminder to anyone who may have read theVTDigger story this week about VSEA’s objection to the State rolling out a new policy that would allow state employees to bring infants to work. Unfortunately, the VTDigger story’s emphasis is on the policy’s impact and not on its roll out, which is an important point for VSEA members and retirees to remember if you are asked about VSEA’s position, as a result of this story.
VSEA’s primary position is that the Governor’s new policy constitutes a significant new term and condition of employment that was imposed unilaterally without providing VSEA with notice or opportunity to negotiate."
That’s it, in a nutshell.
Here’s a reminder of what President Bellini recently wrote to Governor Scott in a letter:
"The members of the VSEA deserve more respect. Launching a policy that changes working conditions without bargaining in good faith with the VSEA demonstrates a lack of respect and understanding for those who will be impacted by this new policy. Seeking feedback, opinions, and ideas from bargaining unit employees and their union prior to the creation and implementation of this policy should have been the first step. The VSEA would certainly have provided this valuable insight from its members. Suspend your imposed policy and negotiate with the VSEA."
Note: VSEA will keep members updated on any and all developments around your union’s request to suspend this policy and negotiate.
"Basket Raffle" To Help Family Of Employee Who Died In
We are hosting a basket raffle to help the Wiktorski family with some unforeseen expenses. Our own Lee Wiktorski lost his life in an unfortunate ice-fishing accident. We are asking for any donation that you can give, no donation is too small. Here is what we need:
BASKETS!! Themed baskets in a plastic wrapping. We are shooting for 100 baskets. (Gift certificates count as a basket and do not need a “basket”)
Large raffle donations; such as furniture, electronics, large gift certificate
Refreshments – baked goods, soups, sandwiches, chips, drinks, paper goods
Donations can be dropped off at the Castleton University library.
The Basket Party begins at 11:00 a.m. on April 6 and the raffle starts at 1:00 p.m. VSEA members, retirees or Chapters can send a donation / basket to Billie Langlois, Castleton University, 178 Alumni Drive, Castleton, Vt., 05735.
Agency Of Education Employee Testifies To Lawmakers About High Employee Turnover
For years, high employee turnover has been a serious and acknowledged problem within the Agency of Education (AOE), and, on Wednesday, longtime AOE employee Sigrid Olson was asked by the chairs of two legislative committees to testify about the issue, as they wanted to learn more. The committees interested in hearing from AOE workers were the House Education Committee and Government Operations Committee.
Olson, a 14-year AOE employee was happy to share with lawmakers, providing committee members with extensive history and background on the Agency’s practices, analysis of employment data reviewed by frontline AOE employees and the result of a survey completed by 25+ former AOE employees, who left for various reasons.
Here’s an excerpt from Olsen’s submitted testimony:
“I want to thank you for inviting ‘rank-and-file’ AOE employees to speak to you today. I sincerely hope it is because you have seen the clear data about the incredibly high turnover rate we have been struggling with for years, and not just because we happen to recently have two division directors who left the Agency at the same time.”
I was a member of our first [labor management committee], which was created some time around 2013. We asked management for two things: 1) to create a joint committee to study increased telework opportunities, like those available in other agencies, and 2) to create a joint committee to study a more robust feedback and goal-setting process, which are also in place at other agencies. Under our contract, management is only obligated to meet with Labor Management Committees for 6 months and is not obligated to initiate any of their recommendations. Unfortunately, the LMC’s recommendations were not supported by management and were not implemented. These issues are still major concerns today.”
The February 28 Waterbury Record reports that 125 AHS employees finally returned this week to the Waterbury State Office Complex, seven years after Tropical Storm Irene devastated the workers’ building.
The paper writes that the AHS workers, who worked primarily for the Department of Vermont Health Access, are one of the last groups of displaced employees to return to the Waterbury campus.
“We completed work on the main campus, but there weren’t sufficient funds from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) to repair all of the buildings,” BGS Commissioner Chris Cole said. He estimates that bringing the workers back to Waterbury will save the state $370,000 a year.
The Stanley Building is the only remaining building on the campus left to rebuild, after Irene’s flooding damaged it beyond repair.
DOC Efforts Stall To Improve Inmate Mental Health Care
VTDigger reports on February 26 that the DOC will not be meeting its charge to use $700,000 allocated "to build 13 new ‘therapeutic beds’ for inmates who need additional mental health services but don’t require hospitalization" by July 1, 2019.
DOC Addiction and Mental Health Systems Director Annie Ramniceanu testified to lawmakers this week that logistical and financial issues have delayed a plan to “construct a therapeutic environment in the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility and in the Northwest State Correctional Facility.” Lawmakers added another $100,000 for the project, if needed. Ramniceanu testified that the DOC also "requested an additional $634,860 for therapeutic beds in the fiscal 2020 capital budget." The State, however, did not recommend that expenditure in its capital plan. According to the story, this forced the DOC to circle back and explore other options, and now the Springfield prison is being looked at as the place to spend the allocated dollars. There’s no official price estimate for the revised plan involving Southern State, but it’s still expected to be well beyond the available $700,000.
Note: VSEA will be monitoring any and all developments around whatever proposal is finally shopped at the State House to better address the needs of inmates with mental illness. VSEA has long argued that any DOC proposal must include a training component for corrections officers assigned to monitor these inmates.
VSEA is sending best wishes to six-year VSEA staff member Ray Stout, who is moving with his family to Chicago to take a new position with Service Employees’ International Union Local 73. Ray currently serves as VSEA’s Operations and Organizing Director. his last day at VSEA is March 8.
"VSEA appreciates everything Ray has done to keep our union operating smoothly and for all his work to sustain and, in fact, grow VSEA’s membership; a job that was made even harder after the Janus decision came down," says VSEA Executive Director Steve Howard. "Ray has been a great asset to VSEA and to the membership. He’ll be missed, but we wish him the best in Chicago and beyond."
WIA reached out to Ray for some parting words, and here’s what he said:
For the past six years I have had the pleasure of working along side the members of VSEA as both your Director of Operations and Organizing. We have accomplished some great things together: we have transitioned to electronic balloting and have seen participation in elections double, we have rolled out new insurance offerings including VSEA/VSP vision insurance and the legal defense fund for sworn officers, we have seen a record high membership, even in the face of right-to-work. These accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of the members of VSEA, this is your union…your voice, continue to use it and use it loudly. Do not rest on the accomplishments of yesterday but continue the flight for a better tomorrow for you, your families, your coworkers and the Vermonters you serve.
Thank you for letting me work with you over the past number of years. Keep up the great work!
Prior to joining the VSEA staff in December 2013, Ray worked as a Financial Manager III with the Department of Vermont Health Access. He also served on the VSEA Council for three years, the Budget Committee for two years and as a NMU Bargaining Team member for a year.
VSEA’s Amy Kinsell Named New Organizing & Operations Director!
Amy Kinsell has been VSEA’s Financial Administrator since 2012, and now she’ll be taking on additional duties for the union after recently being chosen to replace outgoing Organizing & Operations Director Ray Stout by members of VSEA’s Personnel Committee.
"I have learned a lot in my six years working with the VSEA and its members and retirees, and I am very excited to now be offered an opportunity to put what I’ve learned to use as the union’s new Organizing and Operations Director,” Kinsell tells WIA. “My passion for–and understanding of–VSEA’s mission has grown a lot in my time here, and I look forward to working with the organizers, leadership and members and retirees to continue to spread the word about why VSEA is so important and why non-members need to belong. I’m a strong believer that if everyone’s pulling in the same direction, good things will happen."
Before coming to VSEA, Kinsell, a Lyndon State graduate, worked nine years in the Finance Department at OptumInsight, and, prior to that, she served four years active duty in the U.S. Navy as a member of the C130 Squadron, based in Brunswick, ME.
Good turnout for the last VSEA legislator dinner meeting to discuss issues important to members and retirees.
VSEA’s Legislative Committee is hosting its final dinner meeting on March 13 and interested VSEA members and retirees are invited to come and talk with lawmakers in attendance about (or learn more about):
The Future of Woodside Wednesday, March 13, 5:30 p.m.
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The [contract] disagreements are nothing new — low wages and the over-dependence on overtime for correctional officers (Vermont can relate!) are, once again, among the major sticking points…"
“Th[e Governor’s offer] consists of a wage proposal that is not aligned with current market standards and that is not acceptable to us,” says NH State Employees Association President Rich Gulla. “They are proposing adverse changes to our health plan which would negatively impact the overall well-being to the workers …. Additionally, this concessionary contract could result in lost wages for employees who work overtime.”
The story goes on to report that every NH labor union asked about Janus’ impact to date is able to say that membership is actually on the rise, as opposed to declining rapidly, as the anti-union crowd wanted so badly.
Note: Solidarity from VSEA to every NH state employee! The proposals you are fighting off sound sadly familiar.
NY Governor Includes Language In His Executive Budget To Protect NY Public Employee’s Personal Information
The February 28 Albany Times Leader reports that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo "has put a provision in his budget proposal to codify the protection of personal contact information for public employees."
From the story:
“As part of the Governor’s Justice Agenda, the Executive Budget advances a proposal to protect the privacy of all public employees by prohibiting public employers from disclosing the personal contact information of public employees,” reads part of the budget narrative.
“The bill puts into permanent law the prohibition of the disclosure of employees’ personal information by public sector employers,’’ said Division of Budget spokesman Morris Peters. “In doing so, it fulfills the Governor’s pledge to protect public employees from union-busting campaigns following the Supreme Court’s Janus decision.”
Note: VSEA and the Vermont Department of Human Resources have an agreement in principle that state employees’ personal information must be protected. DHR agrees with VSEA’s interpretation ofstatute that your information is confidential and protected from disclosure. Codification from the Governor’s Office would be welcome though….
Merger Prompts Thousands Of GE Employees To Strike
Nearly 2,000 General Electric (GE) employees in northwestern Pennsylvania went on strike this week for the first time in a half century, after GE completed a merger with a company called Wabtec, who now won’t negotiate with the union workers.
Leaders of UE Locals 506 and 618 said in a statement that they were unable to convince the company to negotiate what they called an “acceptable short term agreement that preserves the wages, benefits, and working conditions” for the 1,700 employees.
Scott Slawson, president of Local 506, which represents all but a handful of the striking UE members, said he was especially disappointed that Wabtec would not agree to a 30-day extension of the existing contract.
With the merger, members of the UE locals became Wabtec employees and were subject to terms proposed by it including a two-tier wage structure for new employees, mandatory overtime to meet customer demands, consolidation of job classifications and a requirement that at least part of employee vacations be taken during plant shutdown periods.
Two Midwest Governor’s Propose Big Gas Tax Hikes To Improve Roads
Two Midwest governors, a Democrat and a Republican, are bucking the norm and proposing big tax hikes to fix crumbling state roads.
Governing reports February 26 on Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) and Democrat Governor Tim Walz want to raise the state gas tax by 18 cents per gallon (on top of already existing 28-cent tax) and 20 cents (on top of existing 28.6-cent tax) respectively.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence is meeting with the nation’s governors and telling them the administration still plans on passing a major infrastructure deal this year.
From the story:
“I’ll make you a promise — and we’ll ask for your help — that, in this Congress, we’re going to pass historic infrastructure legislation that will rebuild the roads and bridges and infrastructure of America,” Pence said, according to his office.
Any influx of federal money would clearly help states like Minnesota and Ohio deal with their infrastructure upkeep problems. But getting a big transportation package through Congress quickly would be difficult. So the governors seem more focused on taking care of their concerns at the state level, instead.
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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.
2019 VSEA Scholarship Application Available Now!
Each spring, the VSEA Awards & Scholarship Committee solicits scholarship applications from VSEA members and their spouses, dependents and domestic partners. The application process is easy, requiring the applicant to write a couple of short essays as well as provide a grade history, employment history, personal references and a few other things.
All applications received before May 8, 2019, will be reviewed by Committee members, who will then decide from among all this year’s eligible candidates who is awarded a 2019 VSEA scholarship.
Winners will be announced at the VSEA Council’s June 2019 meeting.
Between January 1, 2019, and September 1, 2019, VSEA is calling on all members to become active recruiters—and you might be rewarded for your efforts. Here’s how:
Members who recruit two members will receive a Dunkin’ Donuts gift card;
Members who recruit five new members will receive a VSEA insulated coffee mug; and
Members who recruit ten new members will receive a $50 Visa gift card.
Every time you recruit a new member during the designated period*, your name is entered into a drawing to be conducted at VSEA’s 2019 Annual Meeting. Four names will be pulled at random and winners will receive a check for $300!
* Please be sure the new members you recruit add your name to the "Recruited By" line on their union card or membership application.
If you have any questions, or want a list of non-members in your area, please contact VSEA Director of Operations and Organizing Ray Stout by email: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Protect Your Pension" Meeting Now
Prior to the legislative 2019 session kicking off, VSEA Executive Director Steve Howard was conducting an education tour around the state, talking with VSEA members and retirees about an expected attack on your pension, who is behind it and how to help prevent it from happening.
If you weren’t able to attend a presentation in your area, VSEA is pleased to now share this link to Steve’s December 2018 St. Albans presentation.
This video is for VSEA members only. To view it you must be logged into your VSEA.org user account. If you do not have a VSEA.org account, please sign up for a free account here.
It is important that every VSEA member knows his or her rights when it comes to union representation in investigatory meetings. Union representation at these meetings is a cornerstone of the labor movement. Your right to representation—as outlined in your contract and, in some cases, labor law—can be complicated.
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!
Getting Ready To Retire? Retired Already? Join The VSEA Retired Members’ Chapter!
Long-time VSEA activist and leader Terry Lefebvre asked Council 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 appealed to Council members to talk up the Chapter to co-workers they know who might be preparing to retire.
With a possible fight looming on retirement security, Lefebvre stressed the importance to build the Chapter to be able to mobilize large numbers of past state workers to protect and defend the benefits they bargained to win over decades.
If you already belong to the Retired Members’ Chapter, a big thanks to you.
Waiting List For March VSEA
Trip To Foxwoods Casino!
The VSEA Membership Recruitment Committee is advising that there is now a first-come, first-offered waiting list for this return trip to the Foxwoods Casino in March. To add your name to the wait list please contact VSEA Union Representative Bob South by email (email@example.com) or phone 802-223-5247.
Bolton Valley Again Offering “Industry Rate” To VSEA Members On 2018-19
All-Access Season Passes
All VSEA members in good standing are eligible to purchase a pass or passes. You can purchase yours today by first contacting VSEA by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. VSEA will verify your membership status and provide you with VSEA’s code, which you will need to complete your online purchase.
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.
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 is working hard to collect members’ contact information.
You can help us 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.