“We don’t yet have the amount of information that you would hope given the amount of money we’ve spent.”
State Auditor Doug Hoffer, commenting to VTDigger this week about a recent audit his office conducted that found there is no way for State officials to determine whether a $38-million-to-date VITL project is succeeding.
Is Your VSEA Work Site Bulletin Board Up To Date? Do You Have A Work Site Bulletin Board?
VSEA’s Organizing Department asked WIA to remind members statewide that, consistent with the contract, there should be a VSEA-designated bulletin board visible somewhere in your work site. This space is reserved for VSEA-only material and hopefully your bulletin board is up to date, but Organizers report seeing more than one bulletin board with outdated, irrelevant or even zero content.
“VSEA Organizers want to get a bulletin board hung in every work site, and we want to make sure the board’s content is from 2016 and not 2006,” explains VSEA Organizing Director Vinnie O’Connor. “I urge members in work sites without a bulletin board—or who want help with their board’s content—to contact VSEA’s Organizing Department. We want to help.”
Note: VSEA Organizers like Jen Larsen (pictured above) ask that you to also make sure your work site bulletin board is accessible, unlike the one pictured here that required Jen to climb on a counter to post material.
Upcoming Vermont Political Events Now On VSEA.Org
It’s election season and VSEA’s political awareness committee, VtPAC, is now posting upcoming political events of interest to VSEA members on the union’s website homepage.
Local Candidate VSEA Questionnaire Answers Now Online For Review
Recently, VSEA’s Legislative Committee sent questionnaires to candidates for local office. In an effort to better educate members about these candidates, prior to the November 8 general election, VSEA is pleased to make each candidate’s questionnaire answers available for review here. Please take time to review their answers and then consider casting your vote on November 8 for candidates whose answers reflect that they will work hard to support and defend state employees and the services you provide.
VSEA’s Legislative Department is casting a net to find VSEA members who are interested in volunteering some time to staff a phone bank in support of VSEA-endorsed candidates. The calls will be targeted solely to fellow VSEA members.
If you would like to volunteer a few hours of your time in the coming weeks to make some calls to promote VSEA-endorsed candidates, please contact VSEA Organizing Director Vinnie O’Connor by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Campaign Season, Ask Yourself: “Is It Fact, Or Is It Myth?”
With Vermont’s general election cycle now gearing up, it means there will now be a lot of rhetoric flying around about why Vermont continues to have budget deficits, with some candidates almost certainly talking about having to “streamline” or “modernize” government” or they will propose giving more tax breaks to corporations to entice them to do business here. VSEA has listed some of the more prevalent myths we hear each election about Vermont’s economic and social climate, and included a fact to counter each. During the campaign, VSEA members are urged to question candidates who continue to promote some of the more common myths.
Here’s an example:
Myth: Too many Vermont young people are leaving the state.
Fact: From a July 15, 2016, VPR story: “According to data from the Internal Revenue Service, nearly as many young people are moving to Vermont as those leaving, dispelling the popular notion that Vermont is losing young people in droves.”
VSEA President Dave Bellini is asking all state employees who are threatened while performing your job duties to provide an account of the threat not only to your supervisor or the State, but also to VSEA.
“VSEA wants to begin to compile its own record of threats against frontline state employees, no matter your occupation,” explains Bellini. “I’m asking all employees who are threatened, especially those working in AHS, to take a few minutes to fill out an online form VSEA made to collect your report. The information will help us provide a firsthand account of the number of threats being made and where they are being made, in addition to some other things.”
VTPAC Hosting Event To Celebrate 20th Anniversary!
VSEA’s “Vermont Political Awareness Committee” is hosting a special event on October 21 to celebrate its 20-year anniversary and honor longtime VSEA friend, Senator Anthony Pollina, and several other labor heroes.
VTPAC’s 20th Anniversary Celebration
Friday, October 21
5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Vermont Granite Museum (View map here)
7 Jones Brother Way
If you are an existing VTPAC member, meaning you currently contribute to your union’s PAC through payroll deduction, you are cordially invited to attend the event free of charge. For members and others who don’t currently belong to VTPAC, there is a suggested contribution at the door. Members can also contribute to VTPAC prior to the event here.
This event will feature food, drinks, music and live sculpting demonstration by local Vermont artist Heather Milne Ritchie.
New Audit Finds State Spending Millions With Little To Show For Investment
Since taking office, State Auditor Doug Hoffer and his staff have been shining a spotlight on wasteful State spending, as well as the State’s failure to provide private contract checks and balances and instances where the State is failing to collect millions of what it is owed. VTDigger reported this week on the office’s latest audit, which found that nonprofit organization VITL (Vermont Information Technology Leaders) “has spent $38 million in state and federal money setting up a statewide system of electronic medical records, but officials can’t determine whether the project has been successful.”
“The audits being released just this year raise a lot of questions for VSEA members, especially because state employees are the ones constantly being asked by elected officials and lawmakers to defend their services when there is a budget deficit—which is every year anymore,” explains VSEA Communications Director Doug Gibson. “If it’s been found that Vermont is not collecting—or accounting for—tens of millions of dollars, then maybe instead of cutting services and state employee jobs, how about our elected officials and lawmakers start looking at ways to ensure the millions in lost dollars identified by the Auditor’s office start going into Vermont’s coffers.” Gibson notes that just $1.5 million of the $38 million figure cited in the Auditor’s latest report would have saved the State’s Risk Management Division and the office’s dozen seasoned state employees, whose jobs were privatized last session to save the State money.
Here are some of this year’s audits that identify where the State is losing millions, or where the State has failed to account for millions:
October 2016 – State pays private contractor VITL $38 million, but whether or not this was money well spent cannot be determined;
September 2016 – Nearly $1.8 million is owed to DCF due to fraud committed by beneficiaries between January 2013 and April 2016;
April 2016 – The Tax Department collected just half of all delinquent income taxes in 2013 and 2014. The audit found that $12.9 million of the $22.5 million owed was collected. An additional $7.2 million in other accounts was also still owed, as of July 2016; and
January 2016 – Judiciary is collecting less than a third of the $3.1 million in court-ordered assessments for public defender services due between January 2012 and December 2014.
Other recent audits worth note include:
July 2016 – Audit finds that even with statutory and contractual language mandating annual employee evaluations by State managers, only a very few employees working for the Departments of Information and Innovation, Finance and Management and Human Resources are receiving an evaluation. Some say it’s been years and others never at all; and
December 2015 – Audit finds that even though the State has required a competitive bidding process when contracting with private vendors for more than 20 years, it’s “commonplace” for the State to award “sole-source” (a.k.a. “no-bid”) contracts. The total amount awarded through no-bid contracts for 2015 was $68 million, or 27 percent of all.
Note: Please remember to ask your elected officials and local lawmakers what steps are being taken to address the deficiencies identified by the Auditor’s office.
VSEA’s radio ad, featuring member Beth Aiken educating Vermonters about the fight by Judiciary workers to receive a fair hearing on pay disputes, ends its statewide run today, but VSEA members who have yet to sign the workers’ petition are urged to add your signature today by clicking here.
VSEA’s Judiciary workers are still embroiled in tough negotiations with the Court Administrator and the Unit is currently waiting for a fact finder’s report to be released.
VSEA Bennington Chapter Hosting Fundraising Tent At The Town’s 10/8 Oktoberfest Celebration
VSEA Bennington Chapter President Victoria Thorpe sent a message to Chapter members this week, informing them that, for the first time ever, the Chapter will be hosting a fundraising tent at the town’s annual Oktoberfest celebration, which is Saturday, October 8. They will be selling homemade fudge and jewelry sets donated by VSEA member Barbara King and magnets donated by VSEA Union Representative Rachael Fields.
Thorpe is urging Chapter members—and all VSEA members—to drop by the tent if you are attending Bennington’s Oktoberfest celebration.
“VSEA Bennington Chapter members are part of this community, and when we attend events like this, we increase the community’s awareness of us and the important work we do,” says Thorpe.
The Bennington Oktoberfest celebration is 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in Colgate Park, located at 1545 West Road in West Bennington.
VSEA Brattleboro Chapter Members “Hike For The Homeless”
In what has become an annual event now, VSEA Brattleboro Chapter President Robin Rieske and other Chapter members hiked for the homeless on October 1, helping to raise money for Groundworks; a local homeless shelter. Rieske, pictured here with a Groundworks volunteer at the base of the trail, encourages VSEA members to donate, and you can do so here.
Dustin Cota, a Program Services Clerk with the Department of Vermont Health Access, sent a note to VSEA to let his union know about a cost-savings measure he and his colleagues successfully implemented. Cota and his DVHA colleagues are still working out of the old IBM complex in Essex, which is why IBM and Global Foundries are mentioned in his story.
“When I started here in April, there was this huge pile of IBM phones on top of the filing cabinets. Co-workers had them either in drawers or on top of the tallest cubicle cabinets. I asked why we had all these phones that nobody really used, and I pointed out they were making the work environment look really cluttered and messy. I was told, “they are included in the rental of the property and that they had to stay in the cubes because each phone was assigned to a particular cubicle.” Then the Global Foundries’ person who keeps track of all the equipment was contacted and asked if there was somewhere to store all the phones that are not being used. This way, they would not be taking up space in our office. He said “yes” and then dropped off boxes to put them in. Each phone collected saved $35 a month. A co-worker printed out a list of the phones assigned to our department, and I then went around cubicle to cubicle, asking if the phone is being used or if there was one in a drawer. I boxed up hundreds of phones that were just costing the state money and were not even being used by anyone. This saved the state just under $5000 a month on wasteful cost.”
WIA thanks Dustin for sharing and urges other state employees who are saving the State money to share your stories as well.
WCAX ran a story on September 30 that featured VSEA President and DOC member Dave Bellini conducting a tour of the St. Joseph Cemetery in Burlington to show the reporter where the work crew he supervises found the bulk of the 155 used hypodermic needles they alarmingly discovered littering the grounds. Bellini’s crew was at the cemetery to mow the grass, but instead spent most of the day collecting the needles, some of which were capped and many that were not.
"I’m a member of the Vermont Old Cemetery Association,” Bellini says. “This isn’t right.” Bellini also reminds that he and his work crew are concerned about the threat of being stuck with one of the needles while working at the cemetery. Burlington Deputy Chief of Police Shawn Burke agrees about the risk, telling the reporter “It creates a hazardous situation.”
Peter Beauregard, the superintendent of Catholic Cemeteries of Burlington, tells WCAX that the “use of needles in our cemeteries is becoming a challenge,” adding that he hopes adding signage and security cameras will ward off the people using the needles.
Help Ruthie Solve The Annual Meeting Gas Gift Card Mystery
VSEA Special Events Committee member Ruthie Leithead asked WIA to help her find out which VSEA Chapter purchased a $25 gasoline gift card from a Jolly’s store to donate to Annual Meeting. The member who won the prize recently informed Ruthie that the card was not activated. Anyone who might know which Chapter donated this card should contact Ruthie at 802-635-9282.
Sobel Family Establishes Scholarship In Daughter’s Name
Lara Sobel’s parents contacted VSEA this week to ask the union to let members know that a scholarship for social work students has been established in Lara’s name at the University of Vermont.
From the Sobel’s announcement:
“The Lara Sobel Memorial Scholarship will be awarded each year to a second-year graduate student in the process of obtaining a Masters in Social Work who is committed to working with children and families at risk. The candidate must demonstrate financial need and will honor and reflect Lara’s beliefs and values.
We could think of no better way to perpetuate the positive influence that Lara had with so many children and families.
Due to the large number of people that have expressed an interest in participating, we have agreed with the University to open the fund to additional contributors.”
Many VSEA members have reached out to VSEA’s Communications Department to ask why they don’t see their union’s posts in their Facebook newsfeed. Facebook has limited space to show you posts, so if you like a lot of Facebook pages, VSEA’s posts may not be appearing in your feed. But fear not, Facebook provides a way to prioritize your favorite pages, so you can ensure you don’t miss VSEA’s posts. It’s an easy process:
VSEA Offering Discounted Long-Term Care Insurance To Members
VSEA President Dave Bellini sent an email to members yesterday, announcing a new and valuable benefit for VSEA members. Your union is partnering with National Long-Term Care Brokers (NYLTCB) to offer Long-Term Care Insurance with discounted premiums.
The program is subject to medical underwriting and insurability is not guaranteed.
Some reasons people plan ahead for Long-Term Care:
To protect retirement assets and pension income;
To prevent Medicaid spend down (impoverishment);
To ensure options for health care; and
To avoid being a burden to loved ones.
As a VSEA member, this offering is made available to you and your eligible family members with a permanent discount, not available to the general public. Eligible family members include spouses/domestic partners, adult children and parents/parents-in-law.
You will have access to a dedicated Long-Term Care planning specialist to help determine if coverage is appropriate for you, and compare policies from different insurance companies to ensure the best coverage at the most competitive premium.
Bolton Valley Extends Season Pass Offer To VSEA Members
For the fourth year in a row, the VSEA Advantage Discount Program is pleased to offer discounted season passes to the Bolton Valley Ski Resort in Bolton.
VSEA members who order before October 31, 2016, can purchase a discounted season pass for $269!
Discounted youth passes for your family members are also available ($199/$159).
Like last year, this offer is available only to VSEA members who are currently paying full dues to their union.
The sign-up process is pretty straightforward, but, like last year, in order for a member to view the special VSEA discount promo code (which can be found by clicking here), you must be a registered user of the VSEA website, which also requires you to be a full dues-paying member.
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.